Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

The Unseemly Lord Carnwath

Why is a Supreme Court judge part of an unsavoury UN advisory panel?


UK Supreme Court Justice Lord Carnwath sits on a United Nations advisory council that aims to achieve sustainability via the legal system. Click to enlarge. Source:

Robert Carnwath became a UK Supreme Court Justice in May 2012. A month later, he flew to Brazil for the brazenly political Rio+20 UN environment conference. By his own account, he was among “150 judges, prosecutors, public auditors and enforcement agencies from some 60 countries” who took part in an event organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

These 150 individuals used the occasion to issue a political statement advising the “world community at large” that environmental law “reflects our best hope for the future of our planet.” The statement tells us what should and must happen, and talks about an “urgent need” to consider putting UNEP – an unelected and wholly unaccountable UN bureaucracy – in charge of the worldwide environmental “policy and law-making agenda.”

Six months later, UNEP announced that Lord Carnwath was one of nine members of it’s newly-created International Advisory Council for the Advancement of Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability. That’s right. A judge who’s supposed to be neutral, disinterested, and entirely above the political fray is part of a UN body intent on manipulating the legal system for a particular purpose.

It’s no secret that activists of all stripes view the courts as an avenue by which to achieve their ends. But Lord Carnwath’s swearing-in ceremony included an oath to “do right by all manner of people” without “favour, affection or ill will.” It isn’t his job to assist environmental bureaucrats. It isn’t his job to save the world.

Lord Carnwath’s participation in UNEP’s advisory council improperly lends the prestige of the UK Supreme Court to a body that also includes Tun Arifin Zakaria, the Chief Justice of Malaysia. Amnesty International reports that sedition charges are frequently used in that country to silence opposition politicians and human rights activists.

News reports tell us that Justice Arafin “led a five-man panel” that, in February, sentenced Opposition Leader and former deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to five years in prison. Consensual homosexual intercourse is a crime in Malaysia, punishable by whipping and incarceration for up to 20 years. Amnesty describes these sodomy charges as “politically motivated” and says Anwar was originally acquitted by a lower court due to lack of evidence.

In the words of an Amnesty spokesperson:

This is a deplorable judgment, and just the latest chapter in the Malaysian authorities’ relentless attempts to silence government critics…. We consider Anwar Ibrahim to be a prisoner of conscience – jailed solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.

According to a Malaysian newspaper, the court’s response to the outcry that followed this decision was chilling:

Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria has issued a stern warning to the public that appropriate action will be taken against those who tarnish the image and dignity of the judiciary…Arifin said the judiciary was open to criticism but will not tolerate unfounded allegation in the social media and at public forums.

How edifying to discover that Justice Arifin hosted a December 2013 UNEP environmental law conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia. Conference participants lauded Arifin’s “leadership in advancing the roles of justice, governance and law.” More than 100 photos taken at that event may be seen online. Lord Carnwath appears in a number of them, including these two:


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Such is the quality and character of those being recruited by UNEP to help it achieve its environmental goals.


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