Ministers should resist calls to end the political role of government law officers, a centre-right thinktank argues today in the run-up to publication of an influential parliamentary report. 

In a paper Between Law and Politics: The Future of the Law Officers in England & Wales, published by Policy Exchange, Dr Conor Casey of the University of Liverpool School of Law argues that the current configuration of the attorney general and solicitor general as law officers with legal and political dimensions works well. Moving to an alternative model of, for example, law officers without any political involvement is not worth it and has potential serious downsides, Casey states.

The paper appears as the House of Lords Constitution Committee prepares to publish the report of a wide-ranging investigation into the role of the lord chancellor and law officers. Policy Exchange said that 'some legal commentators and parliamentary groups' are hoping that the committee 'will recommend far-reaching changes and that the government will act on them'. 

However Casey argues that concerns that the law officers are excessively politicised are misplaced or overstated. He highlights the conventions that deter law officers from allowing political concerns or pressure to taint their decisions or cause them to sign-off government policies under flimsy legal justification.

He proposes that concerns about the balance between law and politics could be met through means stopping far short of serious reform, for example by codifying the law officers’ role and responsibilities.

In a foreword for the paper, former lord chancellor and solicitor general Sir Robert Buckland KC and Professor Sir Ross Cranston, a former High Court judge, Labour MP and solicitor general, back the status quo. They argue: 'The positive case for the continuation of the traditional arrangement for law officers as politicians is that their political background better informs them about the policy goals and priorities of the government of which they are part and the pressures it may be under.

'It enables them to explain to colleagues more bluntly why particular avenues for action must be varied if they are to be lawful and for that advice to be more palatable and consequently implemented by its recipients. To put it another way, the political status of the law officers lends weight to any advice given since it is coming from those who share the government’s goals and aspirations and are "on its side".'


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