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I am speaking for the present Government.
On the question of whether the Lord Chancellor is adequately advised by lawyers, I say that the quality of the lawyers remains extremely high. I take the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, with his experience of the old Lord Chancellor’s Department and the quality of the lawyers there, but there is a great deal of continuity within the Ministry of Justice now.
I return to the role of the Lord Chancellor and deal briefly with the point of whether combining the role with another Cabinet position helps strengthen his or her position in government. Experience shows that both can be successfully carried out by the same person. I echo the views of the previous Government: we welcome the committee’s agreement that combining the role of Lord Chancellor with that of Secretary of State for Justice does, indeed, strengthen the office. I also welcome the committee’s view that it is not essential for the Lord Chancellor to have a legal background. The last two Lord Chancellors did not, but I suppose I hope that it does not become a disqualification for office if you happen to be legally qualified. The committee instead focuses on the necessary gravitas and status that the incumbent who undertakes the role must have, which does not require specific legal experience.
It may be useful to the House if I set out the current policy remit of the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, which I think helps illustrate the benefits of combining the two roles. The Lord Chancellor has responsibility for matters relating to the judiciary, courts and tribunals, coroners, civil, family and administrative law, legal aid, legal services and the legal professions, public records and the Crown Dependencies. The Secretary of State for Justice’s policy responsibilities include prisons and probation, criminal law, sentencing policy, human rights, data protection and freedom of information. It is evident that having one person who is responsible for the effective and efficient delivery of that system combining the functions is of great benefit. It helps give him the necessary clout in Cabinet—or, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said in evidence before the committee, makes sure that he is not at the,
“far end of the table”.
I touched on the Lord Chancellor’s responsibility for ensuring the proper administration of HM Courts & Tribunals Service. I want to say a little more about this as it is an important example of how upholding judicial independence is critical to the successful delivery of that service. The Lord Chancellor discharges his responsibility for the courts and tribunals in partnership with the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals. He has a statutory duty to provide the support necessary for the judiciary to perform its functions and to ensure that there is an efficient and effective system to support the business of the courts. This duty is discharged in conjunction with the senior judiciary, as laid out in the
Tribunals Service Framework Document of 2014, which reflects the partnership arrangement between the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals in relation to the effective governance, financing and operation of HM Courts & Tribunals Service. It is very much a joint venture.
The final point I want to address—and it is a very important point—is the committee’s concern that:
“There is no clear focus within Government for oversight of the constitution”.