The Tory chair of the Commons justice select committee has become the latest senior political figure to question the credentials of newly appointed lord chancellor and justice secretary Liz Truss.
Bob Neill MP (pictured), a barrister, will write to Truss asking her to meet the committee urgently, the Guardian reported this afternoon.
The party's former vice-chair is said to be concerned about whether Truss will be able to fulfil the specific role under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 to represent the interests of the judiciary and to represent the judiciary, including its independence.
'As chairman of the justice committee, I’ll be writing to Liz to meet us urgently,’ he is quoted as saying.
'My concern is this: while it’s not necessary for the lord chancellor to have a legal background, they have a specific role under the Constitutional Reform Act to represent the interests of the judiciary and to represent the judiciary, including its independence within government.
'It helps if the person in charge has been a lawyer or has been a senior member of the cabinet. I have a concern, with no disrespect to Liz, that it would be hard for someone without that history to step straight in and fulfil that role.’
The Guardian quotes unnamed 'sources close to Truss’ as saying that the legal establishment has closed ranks in the face of an appointment of a woman.
A source claimed that other justice secretaries without legal qualifications have not been subjected to the same level of criticisms by 'old, pale, male judges and politicians'.
However, Neill retorted that it was 'bloody outrageous' to level a charge of misogyny, saying that his comments would apply to a male minister with the same CV.
Neill’s comments follow a claim by former shadow lord chancellor Lord Falconer that prime minister Theresa May broke the law in appointing Truss.
Writing in Today’s Times, Falconer said: 'The lord chancellor has to be someone with the weight and stature to stand up to the prime minister or the home secretary when, for instance, they want to compromise on complying with the law in an attempt to placate the public.
'Or when the politicians are determined to blame the judges when their policies go wrong.’
Referring to the 2005 act, Falconer said the lord chancellor 'is the only job in cabinet where there are personal conditions, laid down by statute, which have to be satisfied by the holder’.
He added: 'No one could possibly suggest that Ms Truss met the bar set by that law. I wonder if the prime minister was even told about the statutory requirements before she appointed her.’
However, Neill does not appear to share this view, tweeting: 'Charlie really is being very silly now.’
Lord Faulks said last week that he resigned as Lords justice spokesman over fears that Truss would not have the necessary leverage to challenge the prime minister over crucial issues such as judicial independence.
Neill told the Gazette this afternoon that his quotes in the Guardian were taken out of context, ‘nothing more than that’.
He said the committee wanted reassurance that Truss will ‘continue to keep up the good relationship that Michael Gove had established with the judiciary and the profession’.
'We made a lot of progress,' he added. 'We do not want that to be lost in all the inevitable attention the government will have around Brexit.'
Neill welcomed Truss's confirmation today that the ‘vital work of prison reform will continue at pace’. He also confirmed that the committee has sent a letter to Truss, suggesting a meeting in September.