A former barrister and a one-time tax inspector have emerged as early candidates to chair the justice committee of the House of Commons.

Nominations for the role opened yesterday and Conservatives John Howell and Robert Neill have already thrown their hat into the ring.

Howell, MP for Henley, entered parliament in 2008 and has served on the work and pensions select committee and the justice committee. Before politics, he worked for HM Revenue & Customs and was a partner at accountancy firm Ernst & Young.

In his supporting statement, Howell said his status as a non-lawyer means he can bring ‘fresh thinking’ to the job. He supported the idea of a new bill of rights to replace the Human Rights Act but welcomed the decision not to bring forward immediate legislation.

‘I have no problems in principle with the aim of what is being proposed,’ he said. ‘But the delay in bringing forward legislation which we can scrutinise actually gives us a chance to participate in the wider consultation and to influence the shape of the changes.’

His current rival is Bromley and Chislehurst MP Neill, who was elected in 2006.

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.

Neill 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.

In his supporting statement, he said: ‘I have a very strong personal commitment to our justice system, and the whole of the committee’s area of work is, of course, going to be of particular importance during this parliament.’

Neill publicly supported reform of judicial review in parliamentary debates during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act last year, arguing that JR had seen a ‘significant degree of mission creep’.

Candidates have until Wednesday to be nominated for the role of chair. It has been rumoured that former justice minister Jonathan Djanogly may seek to join the race.

In this parliament a Conservative will hold the position, which was previously held by Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith. The ballot will be held on 17 June.