Chris Grayling, the Lord Chancellor, said this morning he could see “no disadvantages” in the post being occupied by a non-lawyer.
Giving evidence to the House of Lords constitution committee, Mr Grayling, a non-lawyer, said: “In my view it is a positive benefit for the Lord Chancellor not to be a lawyer”.
He went on: “If you had a distinguished member of the House of Lords occupying the traditional role of Lord Chancellor overseeing the courts today, there would still be the same financial pressures my department is facing.
“Actually not being a lawyer gives you the ability to take a dispassionate view – not from one side of the legal profession or the other, not from the perspective of the Bar, not from the perspective of the solicitors’ profession, not from the perspective of legal executives.
“That does not mean a lawyer can’t do the job, but I think it’s really important to say there are benefits in having a non-lawyer in the job.”
Responding to former Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, who told the committee this summer that Lord Chancellors should be legally qualified, Mr Grayling said the role of Lord Chancellor had changed significantly, so it was no longer a judicial role in the way that it had been.
“I don’t think the person in my role suffers from not being a lawyer. I appreciate the constitutional difference, but we don’t need a health secretary who’s a doctor for them to understand how the health service should shape and deliver its services.”
He went on: “I don’t think there are disadvantages. I’m not saying it would not be right for a lawyer to hold the job, but I think there are advantages in not being a lawyer, particularly in difficult times, which to my mind are not counterbalanced by the advantages of being a lawyer.”
Mr Grayling added that he did not “think that a lack of legal qualifications makes my job more difficult”.
Elsewhere in his evidence, Mr Grayling defended his record in upholding the independence of the judiciary, saying that he would have intervened if a member of the government had described a judge as “bloody stupid”.
Mr Grayling said government ministers were entitled to disagree with judicial decisions as long as they did not denigrate the work of judges. He said he had intervened one occasion to protect the independence of the judiciary, but did not give details.
He said protecting the rule of law was not simply a matter for the Ministry of Justice but for every government department.
On legal aid, Mr Grayling said the biggest changes to the system were made by his predecessor, the “distinguished QC” Ken Clarke.
He said the further changes he had made were limited to restricting the earnings of criminal defendants, limiting legal aid for prisoners and imposing restrictions on civil legal aid for “people who have only just arrived in our country”.
Mr Grayling said the role of Lord Chancellor would be “massively devalued” if the role was not combined with justice secretary.
He said it was unlikely that in this case the Lord Chancellor would be entitled to a seat in cabinet and instead could become a “junior minister in the House of Lords”. Describing separation as a “big mistake” he said: “You want a Lord Chancellor round the cabinet table”.
Mr Grayling added that he hoped and believed he had a “good relationship” with the judiciary, and in particular said he had a “good and constructive” relationship with the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge.