26 September 2023

UNITED KINGDOM: Ministers as law officers under question

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The Constitution Committee of the United Kingdom’s upper House of Parliament has launched an inquiry into whether the top law roles in Government should be held by Ministers.

The House of Lords inquiry is to examine the extent to which Ministers as law officers are able to remain impartial given their position in the Executive Branch of Government, and whether their ability to uphold the rule of law and defend the independence of the judiciary is affected.

In the UK, law officers are Ministers with “deep legal experience” appointed by the Prime Minister to give legal advice.

There are three Government law officers — the Attorney General, the Solicitor General and the Advocate General.

MPs, Suella Braverman and Alex Chalk are currently Attorney General and Solicitor General respectively, with Lord Stewart of Dirleton the Advocate General for Scotland.

Ms Braverman (pictured) also holds the separate office of Advocate General for Northern Ireland.

They must sit in one of the Houses of Parliament and are political appointees but, by convention, are expected to have deep knowledge of the law and to have worked in the legal profession.

The inquiry is to ask whether it is “appropriate or helpful for the law officers, as Government legal advisers, to be politicians serving in Government”.

It will also specifically examine the appropriateness of the Attorney General, as a member of the Government, being involved in decisions about whether to prosecute, and whether the role should be reformed.

Concerns have been raised in the past about the dual nature of these roles and whether political considerations could affect the independence of the law officers’ legal advice.

In 2006, the House of Commons Constitutional Affairs Select Committee said “legal decisions in prosecutions and the provision of legal advice should rest with someone who is appointed as a career lawyer and who is not a politician or a member of the Government”.

London, 23 February 2022

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