Conservative MP Robert Neill has been elected as the new chair of the House of Commons justice committee.

The former barrister won the support of MPs in a secret ballot held earlier this week to take charge of the influential group.

The committee will have a vital role in the coming months in scrutinising government plans for human rights legislation reform and addressing the fallout from cuts to legal aid.

The position was the most contested of all select committees in the commons, with five candidates vying for the role of chair.

Neill defeated former justice minister Jonathan Djanogly as well as Sir Edward Leigh, John Howell and David Burrowes.

He will be regarded as a relatively centre-ground appointment based on the MPs who had backed each candidate.

Djanogly won the support of moderate MPs - and likely opponents to the scrapping of the Human Rights Act - such as Dominic Grieve, Kenneth Clarke and David Davis.

Leigh’s election to the post would have been seen as a more hardline appointment, with the MP having been backed by the likes of Bernard Jenkin and Sir William Cash.

Neill was called to the bar at Middle Temple in 1975 and was elected to the London Assembly. He also served on the justice committee until 2010.

The Bromley and Chislehurst MP is a member of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly’s Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee and of the committee to nominate judges to the European Court of Human Rights.