The House of Lords Constitution Committee has launched a new inquiry into the office of Lord Chancellor.
The office of Lord Chancellor has existed in some form since at least the 11th century. The role changed significantly in 2005 with the passing of the Constitutional Reform Act so that the Lord Chancellor is no longer the head of the judiciary or presiding officer of the House of Lords. The Lord Chancellor does, however, retain a role in appointing judges and has statutory duties to uphold judicial independence and the rule of law.
The investigation is being regarded as a direct challenge to Chris Grayling.
Areas the committee invites evidence on include:
- What are the current functions of the Lord Chancellor and how are they different from the Secretary of State for Justice?
- To what extent does the Lord Chancellor still have genuine powers?
- How in practice does the Lord Chancellor uphold the rule of law and judicial independence?
- Is the combination of the roles of Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice appropriate? Should the Lord Chancellor be a more independent voice?
- Should there be statutory criteria for appointment as Lord Chancellor?
- Should the Lord Chancellor be a lawyer? Should he or she be a member of the House of Lords?
Commenting, Lord Lang of Monkton, chairman of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, said:
'The office of Lord Chancellor is one of the oldest in the British constitution, but relatively recent changes have changed the role considerably. It is now approaching 10 years since the passing of the Constitutional Reform Act, which ended the Lord Chancellor's role as head of the judiciary and presiding officer of the House of Lords. This followed a hasty reshuffle in which it had been suggested that the office of Lord Chancellor would be abolished.
We will look at the role as it is now. Does the Lord Chancellor still have any real powers? Is the position appropriately independent of government?
These are just two of the issues our inquiry will explore. We would welcome written evidence on these and other questions from anyone with an interest in or experience of these matters.'
The committee will start taking oral evidence on the inquiry in July and will resume in October. Any interested parties are invited to submit written evidence by 29 August 2014.