Vara leaves Ministry of Justice as law officer ‘helps out’ in upper house

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19 July 2016

Keen: former chairman of Scottish Bar

Keen: former chairman of Scottish Bar

Shailesh Vara has left government, leaving the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) with three junior ministers – down from six before the reshuffle carried out by Prime Minister Theresa May.

Though there is no minister in the House of Lords to replace Lord Faulks, Downing Street announced today that law officer Lord Keen of Elie QC will speak on MoJ business in the Lords.

As announced over the weekend, former Solicitor-General Oliver Heald is the only lawyer appointed to the MoJ, with former banker Sam Gyimah and one-time GP Phillip Lee also named, alongside Lord Chancellor Liz Truss.

Mr Vara, a former solicitor, supported Michael Gove in the leadership contest and told the Peterborough Telegraph that it had been “a great pleasure and privilege to have served as a minister in government”.

Lord Keen is Advocate-General for Scotland, advising the government on Scots law. After being admitted as a barrister in Scotland, Lord Keen was a standing junior counsel to the then Department of Trade and Industry in Scotland from 1986 to 1993, and was appointed a QC in 1993.

A commercial and public law specialist and non-practising member of Axiom Advocates, he headed the Scottish Bar from 2007 to 2014, and became a member of the Bar of England and Wales in 2009. He is a bencher of Middle Temple.

He was chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party but resigned after being appointed Advocate-General for Scotland in May 2015, at which point he was given a life peerage.

Among Lord Keen’s notable cases were successfully defending Lamin Fhimah in respect of the Lockerbie Pan Am bombing, acting for Henri Paul’s family in the case about the death of Princess Diana, and more recently appearing for Rangers FC in a successful challenge to a decision of the appeals committee of the Scottish Football Association and representing former News of the World editor Andy Coulson when he appeared in court on perjury charges in 2013.

Writing today in The Times, former Labour Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer attacked the appointment of Ms Truss, saying: “The most amenable lord chancellor that a prime minister could find would be one who looks to her for promotion: an ambitious middle-ranking cabinet minister whose main ambition is to go further up the greasy pole, with no known signs of independence. Liz Truss appears to fit the bill perfectly…

“There is nothing wrong with ambition — but the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 said that the prime minister could only appoint someone who appears to be qualified by experience. The lord chancellor is the only job in cabinet where there are personal conditions, laid down by statute, which have to be satisfied by the holder.

“There is no one who could possibly suggest that Ms Truss met the bar set by that law. I wonder if the prime minister was even told about the statutory requirements before she appointed her.

“So the prime minister broke the law in appointing Ms Truss, but more importantly showed she did not regard protecting the rule of law as a priority at all in making her cabinet. There is, I’m sure, much that is good about the new prime minister. Her cavalier disregard for the law is not one of them.”

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