Clause 3 — Legal qualifications

Part of Orders of the Day — Constitutional Reform Bill [Lords] — 1st Allotted Day – in the House of Commons at 9:06 pm on 31st January 2005.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) 9:06 pm, 31st January 2005

I am hoping that the Committee will also reject and remove clause 3 from the Bill, for reasons similar to those that we discussed in the previous debate, and also for additional reasons.

The clause insists that the Lord Chancellor must have at least two years' experience of holding high judicial office, or 12 years' experience as a qualifying practitioner of the law, as set out in clause 22—in other words, as a lawyer. The new role of the Lord Chancellor in the Bill means that it is no longer necessary to have specific legal qualifications or experience in practice, and there is no reason why this ministerial post should require particular qualifications when other ministerial posts do not. The Lord Chancellor no more needs to be a lawyer than the Secretary of State for Health needs to be a doctor, the Chancellor of the Exchequer a qualified accountant or the Secretary of State for Education and Skills a university lecturer.

Hon. Members may well think that it is desirable for the Lord Chancellor to have legal qualifications, but that is entirely different from saying that the office holder must in all circumstances have had 12 years' practice as a lawyer or be a judge. The concordat with the Lord Chief Justice, which was debated earlier in today's proceedings, was negotiated explicitly on the basis that the reformed ministerial role requires no special qualification, and that was reflected in the comments made by the Lord Chief Justice that I, and my hon. and learned Friend Vera Baird, quoted earlier.

With the transfer of the judicial selection process to a new independent judicial appointments commission and the consequent limiting of the Lord Chancellor's discretion, there is no continuing requirement for him to have legal qualifications, as he will be acting on the recommendations of the commission and will hence be accountable to Parliament. It will be the job of the commission to weigh up the precise legal abilities of candidates.In respect of the Lord Chancellor's duty to uphold judicial independence and the rule of law, the key qualities are not legal qualifications, but more the character and judgment of the person holding the office. Legal qualifications do not guarantee that the Lord Chancellor will have the strength of character to fulfil those particular duties.