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He had appraised the performance of a previous lay Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, in similar terms, complaining that David Cameron “had failed to comply with the obligations placed upon him by Section 2 . . . to appoint somebody to the job with special qualities that would suit him to performing the job”. (Readers will already have discerned that the Section 2 qualities do not include as a necessary qualification any connection with the law.)

Should one laugh or cry? What did Falconer think was going to happen, when the government of which he was a senior member had opened the Lord Chancellorship to all who fulfilled the near-meaningless conditions in Section 2? The double-think of this matchless Vicar of Bray, who almost uniquely squared his political conscience to serve under both Blair and Jeremy Corbyn, has extended to an expression of regret for ever having supported the abolition of the rôle of Lord Chancellor in the first place. It took him only till 2006 to say: “it was perfectly obvious [sic] that in being a defender of the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law within government, you are greatly assisted by holding a great historical office . . . There is no benefit whatsoever in abolishing the office if one of the things that the office has got to do is defend judges within government”. But by then, the sorcerer’s apprentice had done the damage; and Falconer, in a final piece of nose-thumbing, has since returned to private practice as a barrister and partner in an American law firm in London (something which none of his predecessors would have contemplated, and which judges are not permitted to do).

The Lord Chancellor now doubles as the Minister of Justice (it is of course the other way round: the old title is simply an elegiac shadow of the new). But there is more to the change than the fact that a Ministry of Justice sounds disagreeably Orwellian to English ears: Liz Truss has her hands full with the prison service as well as the legal system, and it remains to be seen how high in her political priorities ranks the well-being of the judiciary, and how influential are any representations which she makes on its behalf. There are few grounds for optimism on either score, all the more so given her widely criticised and apparently reluctant statement following the more Jacobin criticisms of the Article 50 judgment.

And the third picture? This is of Lord Falconer’s 2007 successor as Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw. Although he did at least practise as a barrister — between 1972 and 1974 — his main achievement was as the first Lord Chancellor to sit in the House of Commons since the 16th century. This fact is alluded to in the Inner Temple portrait. The jade-green chair in which he sits rings an artistic bell, but in case one cannot place the quotation, one is prompted by a crumpled postcard in the background, of no less a figure than Sir Thomas More in the Holbein depiction. It is with the saint that the viewer is implausibly invited to compare the sitter — a true case of less is Straw.

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December 20th, 2016
2:12 PM
Paul Leslie's posting is wholly inappropriate. His complaints arise from matters nothing to do with what Jonathan Gaisman has so pertinently written about and he does not begin to justify his comment that "most of this article is utter nonsense and even dishonest in parts". That is unsurprising: the article is on the ball and palpably honest.

Paul Leslie
December 15th, 2016
2:12 PM
Unlike most Standpoint articles this piece is not only utter nonsense but also dishonest in parts. "Society axiomatically benefits from a judiciary in good fettle, vigilantly defending our rights and freedoms, even — particularly — when there is violent disagreement over what those rights are" - what vigorous defence? With the full complicity of many senior and more junior judges - sometimes even without recourse to legislation which tramples the rights of the accused - more and more cases are coming to court where there is no proof even that a crime has been committed Especially since the deplorably one-sided report by Robin Auld, the only defence for the unjustly accused against prosecution is not the lack of solid evidence but a belief by the DPP that there is not a more than 50% possibility of conviction. As far as victims of miscarriages of justice are concerned they have to jump through expensive hoops and demonstrate their innocence "beyond reasonable doubt". Even when, as in the case of Victor Nealon, this can be conclusively demonstrated - including by invoking the proof (I am aware that absence of evidence is not always proof of innocence, but not in this case) that his DNA was completely absent, whether on the victim's clothing or elsewhere at the scene of the crime - there are any number of highly placed judicial functionaries to bring forward specious arguments to deny justice to the wrongfully convicted. See and other relevant articles.

Paul Leslie
December 15th, 2016
2:12 PM
Unusually for a Standpoint article most of this article is utter nonsense and even dishonest in parts. "Society axiomatically benefits from a judiciary in good fettle, vigilantly defending our rights and freedoms, even — particularly — when there is violent disagreement over what those rights are." - and the complicity of so many senior and more junior judges in the serious erosion of the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence and the contemptible curtailing of compensation for the wrongly convicted? The wrongly convicted have to jump through expensive hoops to have a chance of being compensated and to demonstrate that they are innocent "beyond reasonable doubt". Take, for example, the case of Victor Nealon case where the absence of his DNA at the scene of the crime demonstrates conclusively that he could not have been guilty the high ranking judicial functionaries involved found a way to deny him any form of retroactive justice (I am aware that absence of evidence is not always a proof of innocence, but not in the case of this poor man who served seventeen years in prison following a deplorable miscarriage of justice). In a country where the judiciary is attached to the right of a fair trial someone who is acquitted or wrongly convicted and only belatedly let out of prison should not pay for justice to be properly served.

Angela Brown
November 25th, 2016
7:11 PM
The selection process for judges seems to be built around a framework of desirable competencies and behaviours, as frequently used by HR professionals. A much better indicator of capability and potential is performance in relevant current and previous roles, when available, which it surely is in the case of recruitment to the judiciary.

November 23rd, 2016
2:11 PM
I entirely agree and particularly enjoyed the excoriation of Falconer. It seems a shame to bring the Article 50 case into it though. However unfair some of the press criticism may be it is not a case of the courts stepping in to restrain a tyrannical legislative majority or overbearing executive, but of the courts being exploited by a disaffected minority to try to frustrate the result of a referendum. Perhaps it was the right decision from a legal point of view but lawyers should not be surprised that non-lawyers look askance at the outcome.

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