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New judges must declare masonic membership

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BBC News

Thursday, March 5, 1998 Published at 14:00 GMT

UK: Politics

New judges must declare masonic membership
image: [ Jack Straw's move follows a 1997 Home Affairs Committee report into masons and the judiciary ]
Jack Straw's move follows a 1997 Home Affairs Committee report into masons and the judiciary

Freemasons who join the police or judiciary in England have to declare their membership of the ancient fraternal society.

The move, which was introduced last month by Home Secretary Jack Straw, means serving judges will also be asked to make a voluntary declaration but will not be compelled to do so.

It will also apply to magistrates, crown prosecutors, prison staff and probation officers.

Mr Straw said recently that the government would create a register of masons working in the criminal justice system unless they were prepared to name themselves.

He said: "Membership of secret societies such as freemasonry can raise suspicions of a lack of impartiality or objectivity. It is therefore important the public know the facts."

A society with secrets

Mr Straw added: "I think it is the case that the freemasons said they are not a secret society but a society with secrets.

"I think it is widely accepted that one secret they should not be keeping is who their members are in the criminal justice system."

Last year's Home Affairs Committee report into "Freemasons in the Police and the Judiciary" found widespread suspicion about masonic links.

It recommended judges and police officers be forced to declare masonic membership but the measure was delayed for months because of a row between Mr Straw and the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, over whether judges should be included.

[ image: The Home Secretary faced opposition from the Lord Chancellor]

The Home Secretary faced opposition from the Lord Chancellor

The compromise falls short of forcing existing judges to declare their interest immediately.

English freemasonry 'oldest in the world'

Some masonic historians have controversially traced freemasonry and its rituals directly from the time of Jesus Christ through the Knights Templar to the present day.

The United Grand Lodge of England, founded in 1717, claims to be the oldest masonic order in the world.

In 1984 it declared it was becoming an "open" organisation to dispel the myths that have grown over the years.

[ image: Masonic secrecy intrigues and worries outsiders]

Masonic secrecy intrigues and worries outsiders

In a leaflet distributed at that time, it said: "Freemasonry is a society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values. Its members are taught its precepts by a series of ritual dramas, which follow ancient forms and use stonemasons' customs and tools as allegorical guides.

"The essential qualification for admission into and continuing membership is a belief in a Supreme Being. Membership is open to men of any race or religion who can fulfil this essential qualification and are of good repute."

Three principles

Freemasons, the lodge said, follow three principles of brotherly love, relief and truth and practice charity.

It went on the deny the extent of masonic secrecy, which had caused much of the speculation about the true nature of the organisation.

"The secrets of freemasonry are concerned with its traditional modes of recognition. It is not a secret society, since all members are free to acknowledge their membership and will do so in response to inquiries for respectable reasons," it said.

But the Home Affairs Committee disagreed. It described freemasonry as a secret society.

Mutual advancement

It said masonic lodges were run on the basis of mutual advancement and favour-swapping.

Senior barrister Elizabeth Woodcraft says lack of knowledge remains a problem surrounding the masons.

"The troubling thing about the masonic movement or organisation is that we don't know very much about it. But what we do know is that organisation requires loyalty and adherence to a set of values that may be in conflict with the values and the requirements of justice," she said.

She said the danger was the public might believe a judge would be lenient on defendants who were masons, even if this did not happen.

Suspicions could also be raised about masonic connections advancing careers within the judiciary.

"There is an anxiety that because judges are chosen in secret that there is perhaps something a little worrying about how that goes on," Ms Woodcraft said.

One judge who admits being a mason, Lord Justice Millett, denies favours are asked for or granted by judges.

"I've never known whether anybody who's appeared before me on the bench was a mason and they've never known that I was one. And if I had, it wouldn't have made the slightest bit of difference," he said.

He added: "There's nothing slightly above the law about being a mason."

Further Reading:

UK Freemasonry in the News, have the 'Brethren' finally met their Waterloo?