Chris Grayling has welcomed the House of Lords’ recognition that a lord chancellor does not need to be legally qualified – while ducking its recommendation that governments consider the benefit of future incumbents having a ‘legal or constitutional background’.
The lord chancellor was responding to a report by the House of Lords Constitution Committee published last December following its investigation into the office of the lord chancellor.
The committee, chaired by Lord Lang of Monkton, recommended the retention of the ancient office despite changes since the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.
Its report noted: ‘We recognise the advantages to appointing a lord chancellor with a legal or constitutional background. We do not consider it is essential but, given the importance of the lord chancellor’s duties to the rule of law, these benefits should be given due consideration.’
In a letter to Lord Lang, Grayling (pictured) said: ‘The government welcomes the committee’s acknowledgement that it is not essential for the lord chancellor to have a legal background.’
But the justice secretary also said the government did not agree with the committee’s recommendation that the lord chancellor’s oath to ‘respect the rule of law’ be amended to ‘respect and uphold the rule of law’.
Grayling said that the Ministerial Code, Cabinet Manual and Oath of Office already accurately reflect ministerial responsibilities in relation to the rule of law.
He added: ‘In particular, both the Ministerial Code and the Cabinet Manual note the role of law officers in “helping ministers to act lawfully and in accordance with the rule of law”. The government does not agree that there should be a specific requirement on the lord chancellor in this respect, nor that the code, manual or oath require amendment.’
The Ministerial Code sets out 'the standards expected of ministers and how they discharge their duties'. Its current edition, dating from 2010, deals with matters such as conflicts of interest and procedures for dealing with overseas gifts and benefits such as airmiles.
A section entitled 'The Law Officers' opens by saying: 'The Law Officers must be consulted in good time before the government is committed to critical decisions involving legal considerations.'