Thursday, February 01, 2007

 

Attorney General's Role Long Overdue for Reform

Lord Lester today aims some well directed critical shafts at the vulnerability of the UK Attorney General to political pressure. In the USA this problem is less likely to arise as they have a clearer separation of powers; though under George Bush, unsurprisingly, similar accusations have been made. Our judiciary is in theory independent but in practice is not. The existence and role of the Lord Chancellor had been an anomaly for centuries until the botched reshuffle of 2003 proposed to make it less so. He was at once head of the judiciary and a practising judge; a member of the legislature by virtue of sitting in the Lords(and acting,of course, as its Speaker); and in the executive through being a Cabinet member. So he was involved in making, implementing and interpreting the law, quite in violation of best copnstitional thinking. The 2005 Constitutional Reform Act ended the 'Speaker' and head of judiciary roles. Now the AG's role has entered the sights of Lord Lester and his fellow reformers. He cites two major recent events and one less so recent, in support of his case.

Iraq War:Lord Lester accuses the government of making nonsense of established procedures over the decision to go to war in Iraq, more particularly the fact that the Attorney's written advice was not made available to either the Cabinet or the legislature. He adds that Goldsmith had changed his mind over legality and offered advice contrary to the deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Office, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who thereupon, to her credit, resigned.

BAE Systems: Lester argues that Goldsmith's halting of the criminal investigation into alleged BAE corruption, 'shows how fragile and inadequate are our present constitutional arrangements for protecting the rule of law.' The well authenticated article by veteran investigative hacks David Leigh and Rob Evans in today's Guardian, suggests Goldsmith only changed his mind after pressure from Downing St. The rule of law has little chance if its implementation is being constantly influenced by the political whims of the prime minister.

Suez:Lester draws the parallel with Suez when Eden and his Cabinet, knowing they were acting illegally, were able to bypass the law officers: 'That episode provides another illustration of the need for reform today.' Lester approves of Charlie Falconer's indication that the AG's role needs to be changed and the reinforcing indications that Gordon Brown will enter office is considering 'radical reform so as to restore public trust.' No prizes for identifying who squandered that trust: the prime minister and his law officer poodle.

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