The Jewish Conservative peer who resigned as a Justice Minister over Covid law-breaking in Downing Street has outlined his vision for improving standards of behaviour in political life.
Lord David Wolfson called for an “enhanced and reinvigorated” role for the post of Lord Chancellor to maintain “the very highest standards of behaviour and honesty in political life.”
During a debate in the House of Lords, the Liverpool-raised barrister said:”I would like us to consider returning to a system in which the Lord Chancellor is again one of the great things in our constitutional settlement.
“The role could encompass responsibility for the rule of law, the judiciary, our constitutional settlement, devolution, human right and international law—all things, in other words, which are part of the rule of law in its broadest sense and underpin our constitution.
“An enhanced and reinvigorated role for the Lord Chancellor would for those reasons be a helpful and important step in maintaining what we all want: the very highest standards of behaviour and honesty in political life.”
The Lord Chancellor is one of the most ancient offices of state, dating back many centuries. They are appointed by the Monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister and are a senior member of the Cabinet.
By law they are responsible for the efficient functioning and independence of the courts.
Lord Wolfson had quit as Justice Minister earlier this year, writing a letter to Boris Johnson it which he criticised the “official response” to “repeated rule-breaking” as the partygate revelations emerged.
He was the first person to quit the government since reports of lockdown parties emerged.
Speaking in a debate on Standards of Behaviour and Honest In Political Life on Thursday, Woflson said peers “may be aware of a letter I sent to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister earlier this year on this topic, which gained, let me say, some degree of publicity.”
He added:” In that letter, I noted that the rule of law means that everyone in the state, and the state itself, is subject to the rule of law.”
Giving his view on the behaviour of politicians he said:”We do not, and cannot reasonably, expect from our politicians the standards of behaviour we would expect from, for example, our faith leaders.
“I am not a faith leader, nor do I really consider myself a politician. I am a lawyer, and it is from that vantage point that I approach this important topic.”
Wolfson said he was not offering any criticism of the work currently done by Lord Chancellor Dominic Raab, nor that of Robert Buckland, who was in the role previously.
But he said:” I do not think that we have gained from a system in which you can be Lord Chancellor on Monday, but then be promoted—and it will be seen by many as a promotion—to be Secretary of State at Defra or DCMS on Wednesday.
“I have nothing against Defra or DCMS, but the fact is that the Secretary of State at neither department takes an oath to respect the rule of law, and it is the rule of law which underpins standards of honesty and behaviour in public life.”
Wolfson added it “is undeniable that the reforms in the 2005 Act led to a diminution in the role of Lord Chancellor.
“The creation of the role of Justice Secretary two years later, in 2007, while understandable, further undermined that office.
“This is compounded by the statutory requirements for the person who holds the position of Lord Chancellor, who need not be a lawyer at all, never mind a senior lawyer.”
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