It’s going to be… Dominic Grieve. Still. In addition to his post as shadow Justice secretary.
As I’ve commented at Iain Dale’s Diary, I suppose it makes sense in a way for Justice and the shadow Attorney’s role to be combined if the Conservatives really want to make progress on their “British Bill of Rights” idea – there is a big legal component to this as well as policy, and perhaps having one person in charge is a good idea.
I remember when Dominic Grieve used to support incorporation of the ECHR, though, before he was an MP (I remember him making a fool of Paul Boateng at a Liberty conference in I think 1995: Boateng opened with an angry tirade about how his Tory counterpart was going to fight human rights legislation tooth and nail and stamp poor naked orphans into the dust, to which Grieve responded by saying “actually, Paul, I’m in favour of incorporation”) so I wonder how completely “sound” his instincts are, from the point of view of anti-human rights Tories. Anyway, since he’s now in charge of that project, I expect clarification of how they intend to replace the Human Rights Act, not just a pledge to do so.
I think what the Conservatives seem to be missing, though, is the important contribution of the Attorney to European policy. What the existing treaties allow the UK to do, the extent to which powers can be repatriated, how to make a non-Lisbon world work or how to deconstruct Lisbon and create something else – a Conservative government’s approach will have to rest on a legal standpoint as well as policy aims – especially if the idea is to sell an alternative view to other governments. Is someone close to Cameron developing Tory legal thinking about Europe to serve his policy, working with the foreign affairs team? If not, I think they’re missing a trick. There may not be votes in it, but if they do win, do they want to hit the ground running on Europe, or spend two years working stuff out?
I can’t really believe Grieve would fill both these roles in government – it’d be quite a coup for any lawyer to be both Lord Chancellor and Attorney General at the same time, but if you take either job seriously it can’t be done, and it would give the conflict of interest mavens who dogged Lord Goldsmith in his last months an absolute field day. How can you be responsible for the independence of the courts and judiciary from the state, and be the person who superintends all state prosecutions?
I think David Cameron might have been better to pick the person he knows he actually wants as Attorney now – even if simply as an adviser to Grieve pending a peerage. There must be some decent Tory lawyers out there… suggestions welcome in comments. I’m not available myself (or suitable, not being a Conservative) although someone has to make sure they never again turn to Bill Cash.
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