Lord Chancellors should be judges, APIL argues

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29 August 2014


Chris Grayling

“Conflict of interest” between Lord Chancellor and justice secretary

Lord Chancellors should be recruited from the judiciary and no longer combine the role with that of justice secretary, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has argued.

In written evidence for the House of Lords constitution committee’s inquiry into the role, APIL said it was concerned that, under section 2 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, there was no longer any requirement that the Lord Chancellor should be legally qualified.

“A Lord Chancellor does need to be fully informed as to the workings of the legal system, so he can be aware of any consequences of changes to the legal system which may be introduced, allowing him to continue to protect the independence of the judiciary and defend the rule of law,” APIL said.

“Section 2 should therefore be amended to state that the Lord Chancellor must have experience as a qualifying practitioner, and we believe that the Lord Chancellor should be appointed from the judiciary, as has happened previously.”

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The current Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, appointed in 2010, is the first to be a non-lawyer. Lord Judge, the former Lord Chief Justice, told the constitution committee last month that Lord Chancellors should at least be legally qualified.

In its evidence to the committee, APIL went on to call for the role of Lord Chancellor to be separated from justice secretary, reverting to the position before 2003. “Combining the office of Lord Chancellor with a secretary of state running a high-spending department presents a conflict of interest, and can result in split loyalties towards and between the judiciary and the Prime Minister.

“As Lord Chancellor, it will be the office holder’s responsibility to protect the rule of law, the independence of the courts, and accessibility of the legal system,” APIL said.

“As secretary of state, however, the Lord Chancellor will want to follow the Prime Minister’s agenda, which could include identifying financial savings, as well as promoting a political agenda, which could potentially affect the running of the courts and access to justice.

“We therefore support the separation of the positions of secretary of state for justice and Lord Chancellor, and the Lord Chancellor should revert to being a stand-alone position and office.

“The sole duty of the Lord Chancellor should be to defend the rule of law, and not to serve the political interests of the government of the day.”

The association added that the Lord Chancellor needed to be “the judiciary’s voice to government, and not the government’s voice to the judiciary” and only an “independent and knowledgeable Lord Chancellor” could achieve this.

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