I will declare this personal interest – many moons ago, when we were both undergraduates, I was kind of friends with Robert Buckland MP. I believe him to be an able and decent man. He is also an all round nice fellow. Nice enough that, when I contacted him through the mist of years to discuss Legal Aid, he was prepared to listen and engage.
This is not just a bit of lame name dropping by me, it is so you know that background when I excuse him from the criticism that I level here. He has been appointed Solicitor-General and I do not see anything wrong with that appointment. He is an able deputy to the Attorney-General, being called in 1991, practising until 2010 and being appointed a Recorder in 2009. What is remarkable is that he is the deputy to Jeremy Wright. The new Attorney-General was called in 1996 and was elected to parliament in 2005. From that point on his entries in the members’ register of interests reveals he has not practised. So the deputy has nearly twenty years post-qualification experience, the head guy has no more than eight.
The criticism of this appointment is clearly voiced in Matthew Scott’s blog and I invite you to read his piece where he describes Jeremy Wright as “the least distinguished Attorney-General in two hundred years”. I am not going to repeat all the points that Matthew eloquently makes.
What I would observe is that this is not a position forced upon the Prime Minister. It is not due to a lack of adequate candidates that we now have a non-lawyer as Lord Chancellor and a non-silk, 8-year-PQE-lawyer as Attorney-General. One could point out, for example, that the Solicitor-General is more qualified for the job than the Attorney-General. It is also not a constitutional requirement that these offices should be filled by MPs. They are principally legal appointments which are now being filled by politicians. The PM had the choice of a field of able and experienced lawyers that could be appointed to the job. He could have limited himself to ones that share his political views and still had dozens and dozens of Silks who could undertake this job. Instead we have a politician in the most senior non-judicial law job in the land.
What does that matter? Everything. It sets the tone. He is notionally the Leader of the Bar (and the Bar Council should act immediately to end that tradition after this appointment). He advises the Government on the law (would they usually go to someone with 8 years experience to advise on whether we go to war?). He appoints the head of the Crown Prosecution Service (a job that an 8 year post call advocate would not even get an interview, if he applied). All of this is now being dealt with by an appointee who is first and foremost a politician.
I venture to suggest no Prime Minister has ever lost a General Election because of his choice of Lord Chancellor and Attorney-General. The Prime Minister could have appointed able, talented, experienced lawyers to these posts. But that would not be politically expedient. This part of the Cabinet deck of cards riffle shuffle makes it more likely that the Government can act in a way which they hope will win them votes but will mean that this nation will lose the Rule of Law. And that leaves me terrified.