Freemasons shake off ruling on judiciary
Prospective judges will no longer have to declare if they are Freemasons, the government has announced .
For the past 11 years, anyone applying to be a judge or a magistrate for the first time had to declare on an application form whether they belong to the Freemasonry.
But Jack Straw, the justice secretary, said that as a review had shown no evidence of impropriety or malpractice as a result of a judge being a Freemason it would be "disproportionate" to continue with the practice, introduced in 1998.
There were "existing safeguards that help support the proper performance of judicial functions", including the judicial oath and an official complaints procedure, Straw said.
The United Grand Lodge of England made representations to ministers in May and indicated it may seek judicial review of the policy. This followed two cases at the European court of human rights where Italian Freemasons successfully argued it was discriminatory to be asked to declare membership of a non-secret society.
The Ministry of Justice said all levels of the judiciary were affected by the decision, but not coroners, who are appointed by local authorities.
Chris Connop, the United Grand Lodge's information officer and a magistrate for 17 years, said: "We are delighted at the decision. We have been feeling very miffed about this for a very long time.
"Even when the rule was introduced in 1998 after a report by the home affairs select committee, we were told there was no evidence of any impropriety on the part of judges who were members, but merely that there was a perception that it could be a problem, which is ridiculous."
Connop said he hoped the Home Office would now change the rules which currently require potential police officers and anyone working for the probation or prison service to declare whether they are Freemasons.
The Freemasonry is "blatantly" not a secret society, said Connop, adding that members were forbidden to use Freemasonry for financial gain.
"We never objected to declaration, but we objected to being singled out. Where do you think most business deals take place? On the golf course. So shouldn't people have to declare which golf course they are members of?" he added.
There are more than 330,000 Freemasons in England and Wales, and an estimated 6 million in the world.