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June 16, 2013

Does the Secretary of State for Justice need to be a lawyer?

Chris Grayling is the first Lord Chancellor not to be a lawyer (I think). Previously this was impossible since the Lord Chancellor was head of the judiciary. But the Constitutional Reform Act removed the judicial functions, and opened the post up to non-lawyers. It happens that, since then, all the Lord Chancellors have been lawyers. Or maybe the Prime Minister always felt it was better for the Lord Chancellor to be a lawyer. But Chris Grayling studied history at university and spent his career in the media, first in TV then in PR. Recently, many lawyers, riled by the legal aid reforms, have suggested that they would never have been proposed by a lawyer and that the minister in charge of justice should be a lawyer. I understand concerns about the legal aid proposals and agree a lawyer is less likely to have come up with them. But that doesn’t mean the Secretary of State should be a lawyer. I have never trained as a lawyer but I know a lot about the justice system and about the law, and campaign to improve the system. It is important to get the perspective of non-lawyers on the legal system because they have different experiences and ideas. The important thing is for a Lord Chancellor to have a deep understanding of the system, and its dynamics. Critics of Chris Grayling suggest he does not have this understanding because he is not a lawyer. But understanding is not exclusive to those with qualifications.