Former lord chancellor Lord Falconer has attacked successor Chris Grayling for failing to view his commitment to the rule of law as different to that of any other government minister.

Last week Grayling was grilled by the House of Lords constitution committee on whether his position as justice secretary caused a conflict in his commitment to the rule of law.

Grayling told the committee: ‘I regard the task of upholding the rule of law as something that is not just [for] the lord chancellor but every minister. Of course it’s an important part of what I do but [it’s] an important part of what everyone does.

‘It is not something for the Ministry of Justice – it is a matter for every department. I don’t think it’s unique to me. Every one of us should be a custodian of the rule of law.’

Speaking today at the House of Lords constitution committee, Falconer said the comments suggest the prime minister has failed in his duty to appoint someone with the ‘special qualities’ required for the role of lord chancellor.

‘Grayling has no understanding of his role as special,’ said Falconer. ‘[The comments were] heartbreaking and disappointing.’

He said these qualities should include an understanding of what the rule of law means beyond the common definition; and the personal qualities to stand up for the principle.

Falconer agreed with Grayling’s remarks that the lord chancellor does not necessarily have to be a lawyer. But he added that Grayling’s comments raise the question of whether a lawyer might have more appreciation of the principle.