At the end of my interview the other day with Charon QC, I spoke briefly about the appointments of the Law Officers – the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve and the Solicitor General, Edward Garnier – and suggested Nick Clegg had missed a trick by not insisting on a Liberal Democrat in one of these posts. I really do think that’s a mistake on his part.

As I’ve often said, political commentators tend to underestimate the importance of the Law Officers, thinking the Attorney’s job merely a technocratic consolation prize for lawyers not given a proper policy job. Iraq should have shown people how wrong that is. The government is bound by collective responsibility to accept Law Officers’ advice and act on it; their advice sometimes determines government policy, and is often a strong influence on it. Major fields such as European policy involve a large amount of legal content – George Osborne’s negotiating strategy on regulating hedge funds and the financial services industry will be significantly informed by Treasury lawyers’ view of the meaning of the EU’s proposals, and if he’s not content with government lawyers’ advice, the final view will come from the Law Officers. The Law Officers also resolve disputes between departments when they turn on legal issues – a role they may need to play more often when, say, Vince Cable’s department disagrees with the Treasury, or Chris Huhne’s disagrees with Transport or DEFRA.

All of which means David Cameron and the Conservatives are at a clear advantage in the coalition, holding both Law Officer posts. Had I been advising Nick Clegg, I’d have told him he needed a Liberal Democrat Solicitor General – Lord Carlile might have been an ideal choice had he been willing. I’d also have suggested the coalition agree that LibDem Cabinet ministers have a right to insist on joint, agreed advice of both the Attorney and Solicitor General before being bound, and that irreconcilable disagreements be sent for binding resolution by Treasury Counsel, James Eadie or Jonathan Swift.

As I say: Nick’s missed a trick.

2010-05-19T16:13:55+00:00Tags: , |