A former High Court judge who had been a member of the Brotherhood for more than fifty years told me, 'Yes, I knew which judges were and which judges were not Freemasons in my time. I am speaking of the High Court and Court of Appeal only - and of course the Law Lords. I know, I think, most of the judges who are Freemasons who currently sit in those courts. I am not at liberty to give you names, you understand. If they wish you to know they will tell you themselves. For myself, I can't see why you shouldn't know. Being a Freemason is the last thing I would wish to hide. I can tell you that there were many judges in my time who were members of the Craft. Probably fifteen years ago, sixty or seventy per cent of us were Masons. It's lower now - probably not much above fifty per cent - and that's not necessarily good.'
I asked if in his view Masonry exerted any influence over judges.
'Of course it does. Freemasonry cannot fail to influence a man. It has a very great influence for good.' 'And ill?'
'Only very occasionally.' 'Can you be more specific?'
'Yes I can. Freemasonry teaches a man to love his fellow men. Now, that might sound twee, but it isn't. It's perhaps more important than anything else in the world.'
'The good it brings or can bring is like the good that can come from Christianity, then? Or Buddhism?'
'Yes. But it's bigger than Christianity. Bigger than all religions because it embraces them all.'
'You said it occasionally has a bad influence.'
'Judges are men. Freemasons are men. Being a Christian doesn't make you like Christ, try as you might. The problem is in understanding what your religion, be it Christianity, Buddhism, Hindu or whatever you like, is all about, isn't it? It's a misunderstanding of the tenets of Freemasonry's aims, which can cause serious moral problems sometimes. But judges are less likely to misunderstand or misinterpret than most other people. The problem of the judge, and you realize this every day you sit, is that he's human.
'I have known two cases in my entire life at the Bar and on the Bench when Freemasonry influenced a judge in a way he should not, properly speaking, have been influenced. Bear in mind this is two cases out of perhaps twenty or thirty occasions when I have seen a man indicate by a movement or form of words that he was a Freemason.'
'That sort of thing does happen, then?'
'Of course it does. But we ignore it.'
'Most judges who are Freemasons say it doesn't happen.'
'It can't truly be said that people don't try these things because some people do. And who can blame them? I think part of Freemasonry's problem is that it tries to pretend that men in the Craft are above using it for their personal benefit. That's rubbish. Many wouldn't consider using it -most I would say. But thousands do every day, in all areas of life.'
'So some Freemasons who appear in court do try to use their membership to help them.' 'I've said so. Some, but in my experience not many.
Hundreds of Masons must pass through the courts without anyone knowing if they are in the Craft or not.'
'How can a Freemason make it known that he is a Mason without non-Masons in the court being aware that he is doing or saying something strange?'
‘I am not at liberty to tell you these things because they are covered by our pledge of secrecy. There are certain words, certain phrases, certain motions. If you weren't a Freemason you wouldn't notice. They are not big gestures or anything like that, or strange mumbo-jumbo words.'
'What happened on the two occasions when the judge was swayed by the knowledge that the man before him was a Freemason?'
'It happened years and years ago when I was defending two brothers on charges of larceny. After re-examination of the younger of the two, the judge started asking him some particularly awkward questions which hadn't been raised by the prosecution. My client began to stumble over his words and contradicted himself on a fundamental point. The judge - who I should point out was a bit eccentric anyway and was retired prematurely - spotted it straight away and said that what my client had just said meant he could not have been speaking the truth before. Before he had finished speaking, my client made a sign which told the judge he was a Mason. Instead of ignoring it, he reacted.'
'He looked surprised and very disconcerted.' 'What did he say?'
'Nothing. And he did not ask the questions which should naturally have followed.' 'What happened?'
'In his summing-up to the jury, the judge turned the incident back-to-front and referred to my client's sincerity. He went as far as suggesting that the jury might well consider that any apparent contradiction in his evidence was due not to a wish to befog the truth but to a confusion arising from the strain of a long hearing and natural nervousness.' 'Couldn't that have been true?'
'My client was lying. I knew it and the judge must have known. Nobody can say that the judge's summing up does not influence a jury, and on all but the main charge the Freemason was acquitted. The brother, who had not been the prime mover, was found guilty on all charges. In sentencing them, the non-Mason received two years and the Mason a year - for the same crime.'
'The other case?'
'Was when I was on the Bench, but it wasn't a case of mine. The judge was a very eminent Freemason, now dead. A man said something which made it clear he too was a Freemason. The judge told me afterwards that he had imposed a much more severe sentence than he would otherwise have done for that offence.'
'Because, as he saw it, the crime was the more reprehensible because a Freemason had committed it, and the defendant had compounded this "betrayal" of Freemasonry by abusing the masonic bond of brotherhood that existed between himself and the judge.'
'Do you agree with the judge's action?'
'No, I do not. But it does show that Freemasonry among the judiciary can be a two-edged sword.'