It is welcome to see the flurry of comments coming from the Bar Council, Lord Falconer and your leader in the Gazette concerning that most important of legal topics, namely the lord chancellor’s responsibilities and how they can best be discharged.
Before the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, constitutional convention ensured that the office was held invariably by (and I quote here the late and eminent Professor Robert Heuston) a ‘lawyer of first-class ability, capable of evoking the respect, and even fear, of lawyers, politicians and civil servants’. That they also lacked political ambition was of equal importance. Since none of those who have held the office since Ken Clarke have come close to having anything like the capacity for independence, lack of ambition or experience demanded, reform is plainly needed.
I appreciate that, having felt the need to interfere, Lord Falconer would have found it difficult to write the aforementioned virtues into the statute book. One is guaranteed, however, to find those qualities among the most senior ranks of the judiciary and Queens Counsel. And while it is perhaps naive to suggest that any prime minister would entertain a proposal that would diminish their powers of patronage, I would nevertheless go further.
The final appointment should come about only following a vote in the Lords (or a specially constituted committee drawn from their benches) who would be asked to consider a candidate selected by the prime minister from among the cohort I have identified. A unique office demands near unique qualities and justifies a unique appointment process. Our constitution deserves it.
Richard D Edwards, Solicitor-advocate, Potter Rees Dolan, Manchester