The outgoing chair of the Bar Council has accused Dominic Raab of being ‘thin-skinned’ for refusing to meet with him, claiming his response to the lord chancellor’s ‘unfair’ attack on lawyers was the reason.
Derek Sweeting QC, who leaves the post at the end of the year and was recently appointed a High Court judge, told the Guardian that he had not met Raab since he was appointed in September because the minister ‘took exception to something which I had said’.
‘All I would say is that if ministers are going to make attacks on lawyers – unfairly, in my view, and the view of many others – then they should expect a robust response,’ Sweeting told the newspaper. ‘We shouldn’t then end up in a position where we are denied meetings as a result of being critical. It does seem counterproductive and perhaps a bit of a thin-skinned approach.’
Raab is said to have taken exception to comments made in response to his suggestion that there is a ‘widespread practice’ among criminal defence solicitors to encourage defendants to delay guilty pleas until the last minute.
Sweeting also referred to Raab’s no-show at November’s annual bar conference: the minister sent a pre-recorded video message and later tweeted a picture of himself in his Surrey constituency with two women on roller skates – one dressed as a Christmas pudding and the other as a bauble.
‘It got a pretty poor reception,’ Sweeting told the Guardian. ‘I do understand that an MP with a marginal seat would want to be in his constituency on a Saturday, and it wouldn’t have been a problem if he had responded to requests for a meeting in the months since he became lord chancellor.’
He added: ‘I hope that there’ll be a rethink and engagement as soon as possible with my successor. I and the Bar Council have had very constructive relationships this year with officials at the MoJ, as well as politicians – this is something of an exception to my experience of the year.’
An MoJ spokesperson said: ‘The justice secretary has engaged regularly with the legal sector and will continue to do so.’