Grieve tells Grayling on being Lord Chancellor: “It helps to be a lawyer”

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30 October 2014


Dominic Grieve

Grieve: “Understanding the oath of office is essential”

Dominic Grieve MP, the former Attorney General, has made it clear that he believes there are advantages in the Lord Chancellor being a lawyer.

Responding to comments by Chris Grayling, the current non-lawyer Lord Chancellor, that there were “no disadvantages” in his lack of legal qualifications, Mr Grieve told peers: “It helps to be a lawyer. I think there are advantages in having a Lord Chancellor who is a lawyer.

“One of his jobs is to act as a link between the judiciary and government – a very proper constitutional link which needs to be maintained while also ensuring the distance between the judiciary and government.

“I think it’s probably easier to do that if one has a history of involvement in the legal profession. It seems to me that this is quite apparent, but it’s not essential.”

Mr Grieve, who left his post in July this year following a cabinet reshuffle, was addressing the House of Lords constitution committee as part of its inquiry on the role of Lord Chancellor.

The MP for Beaconsfield said Lord Chancellors could “overcome” not being lawyers “if they choose to do so, or want to do so” and he did not want to suggest that legal knowledge was essential. “Understanding of the legal principles is essential. Understanding the oath of office is essential.”

Another former Attorney General, this time from the previous Labour government recalled how, when the Constitutional Reform Act went through Parliament, it was made “absolutely clear” that the Lord Chancellor’s duty to uphold the rule of law would be “reinforced and fundamental” to the discharge of his duty.

Baroness Scotland said: “It was for that reason and for that reason alone that the oath that the Lord Chancellor took made specific reference to that duty, particularly in terms of supporting the judiciary.

“And it was because it was in contemplation that there might at some stage, although many thought it was unlikely ever to happen, be a Lord Chancellor who was not a qualified lawyer, had never sat as a judge and therefore might not be fully conversant with what the day-to-day meaning of the application of the rule of law actually stood for.

“For many it is shocking indeed to hear of a High Lord Chancellor of this country who appears not to understand the nature of that oath”.

Baroness Scotland went on: “The government, any government, needs a strong Lord Chancellor who really understands the fundamental importance of the rule of law to our democracy. It is the cornerstone on which our democracy stands.

“If we do not understand the rule of law, and if we have a Lord Chancellor who does not understand that, then I think our democracy is in a little difficulty.”

Jack Straw, Lord Chancellor under the previous government, said he would “want to see evidence” for a rule saying the Lord Chancellor had to be a lawyer. He added that he did not believe there was an “exclusive sect of defenders of the rule of law who are only lawyers”.

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