A large number of people who have contacted me in the past seven years have been concerned that Freemasons in the judiciary and legal profession exercise a pernicious influence over the administration of justice. Allegations of collusion between judges and lawyers, on behalf of their brethren in the dock, have been rife. The impartiality of Freemason judges has been called into question. There have been claims of huge masonic conspiracies between rival firms of solicitors and suggestions that Freemasonry is such a Grey Eminence that proceedings in open court are merely outward show, while everything is decided in advance, long before cases involving Masons reach court. I have heard many claims of civil battles lost and won on the basis of masonic signs made in court. Even the odd murderer is said to have got himself off by pulling the trick at an opportune moment.
But are any of these fears grounded in truth?
The legal system of England and Wales has certainly been a bastion of Freemasonry for generations. For a first opinion on whether this poses any kind of threat I approached the head of the judiciary, the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain.
One of the most powerful men in the country, the Lord Chancellor is responsible for the appointment of High Court judges, Recorders, Circuit judges and magistrates, as well as having a host of other duties. In his office come together the three powers of government - judicial, legislative and executive - which in all other individual constitutional positions except that of the Sovereign are kept separate as a safeguard against tyranny. As head of the judiciary he is the most powerful man in the first of the three spheres of power; as President of the House of Lords he exercises legislative power; and as a member of the Cabinet he exercises executive power. At the time of writing, this position - eighth in order of precedence after the Sovereign - is occupied by the Rt Hon Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone. So fervent is Hailsham's faith in the incorruptibility of the legal system over which he presides that when I tackled him on the subject he swept aside the widespread concern that a Freemason judge might be tempted to show favour to members of the Brotherhood who appear before him. Freemasonry is irrelevant in the administration of justice in England, says Hailsham. He told me he was not a Mason and declared that my research was 'worthless activity' and my book 'a valueless project'.
Lord Gardiner, Labour's Lord Chancellor in the four years prior to Hailsham's first appointment to the office in 1970, was a senior Mason. Lord Elwyn-Jones, Lord Chancellor in the Labour years between 1974 and 1979, when Hailsham was reappointed on the advice of Margaret Thatcher, was not a Freemason.
After the Lord Chancellor, the highest judicial appointments are to the Supreme Court of Judicature. These are: Lord Chief Justice: Head of the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division); Head of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court; Member of the House of Lords. Current incumbent: Lord Lane of St Ippollitts in the County of Hertfordshire (Life Peer, born 1918). Master of the Rolls: Lord Chancellor's deputy. Head of the Court of Appeal (Civil Division). In charge of superintending the admission of solicitors to the Rolls of the Supreme Court. Current incumbent: the Rt Hon Sir John Donaldson, PC (born 1920).
President of the Family Division: Head of the High Court division which handles matters including matrimonial appeals from magistrates' courts (maintenance, separation orders, etc.), marriage of minors, divorce, and non-contentious probate. Current incumbent: the Rt Hon Sir John Lewis Arnold (born 1915).
Vice-Chancellor of the Chancery Division: Head, after the official President (the Lord Chancellor), of the High Court division dealing with matters that include private, public and charitable trusts, the administration of the estates of those who have died, dissolving and winding up companies and other company-related matters, mortgages and land charges, wards of court, revenue, bankruptcy, contractual disputes, and commercial partnership matters. Current incumbent: the Rt Hon Sir Robert Megarry (born 1910).
I wrote to all these men asking if they were members of the Brotherhood. My first letter to Lord Lane received no reply; my second was opened and returned to me without comment. Sir John Donaldson, before he succeeded Lord Denning, a non-Mason, as Master of the Rolls, told me, 'I do not really feel that the question of whether or not I am a Mason is a matter of public concern ... It is a totally irrelevant consideration in our work.' Sir John's wife is tipped as the first woman Lord Mayor of London, an office that membership of the Brotherhood is usually helpful in obtaining. Sir John Arnold, who did not reply to two letters, is a Freemason of grand rank. He was an Assistant Grand Registrar in 1970 and was promoted to Past Junior Grand Warden in 1973. Sir Robert Megarry did not reply to two letters. If he is a Freemason, and most people I have spoken to who know him think it unlikely, he is not of grand rank.
Lord Lane's predecessor as Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, was an extremely enthusiastic Freemason of grand rank, holding office as Past Junior Grand Warden and Past Senior Grand Warden.