Whether or not he has the right credentials, Chris Grayling’s education shouldn’t preclude him from lord chancellor role.
Whatever you think of lord chancellor Chris Grayling – and many of you are only too happy to share your thoughts – you had to feel sympathy for him this week.
His appearance at the House of Lords constitution committee was potentially excruciating.
Lined up in front of him were some of the finest legal minds in the country, many appearing dismissive of his lack of legal qualifications. ‘Strictly’ fans will understand when I say he was the Gregg Wallace to the committee’s Craig Revel Horwood.
But when Grayling told them he saw no obvious reason why his job should be the preserve of a lawyer, I tended to agree.
It seems to me the role of lord chancellor is, in practice, to ensure the independence and quality of the judiciary and, more theoretically, uphold the rule of law element to the government’s actions.
I don’t see why a non-lawyer would not be capable of these tasks. It is perfectly possible to understand the importance of the rule of law and an independent judiciary without having trained in the law oneself.
This is a partly ceremonial role which requires gravitas, deference to the past and independent thought. Saying Grayling can’t be lord chancellor without a law degree is like saying the Queen shouldn’t be head of the armed forces as she’s no good with an assault rifle.
Grayling was also right to point out the presence of a lawyer is no guarantee of legal aid preservation. His predecessor, Kenneth Clarke, was a barrister from a classic mould – and yet signed off on just as tough a reform agenda. I don’t see that it makes any difference to know the person pulling the trigger understands your predicament – the consequences are still the same.
And does the role of lord chancellor matter so much anymore? Governments are run by teams of civil servants, with their actions overseen by armies of lawyers. We don’t need a heavyweight legal brain stomping round Westminster keeping up some notional adherence to grand values.
By all means separate the roles of justice secretary and lord chancellor. Turn the LC into a legal version of the speaker – for this we’ll need someone apolitical, experienced and with an appreciation of what the role means. If they tick those boxes (and there is an argument to be had over whether Grayling does so), I don’t see why we have to insist on them being a lawyer.
To suggest otherwise, dare I say it, smacks of professional conceit.
John Hyde is a Gazette reporter