The Daily Telegraph

Post Brexit, we must restore our judicial system


Because of last week’s horror at Westminste­r, little attention was paid to an interventi­on by the retiring Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas. He attacked the Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, for not defending the judges when they were criticised over their attitude to Article 50. She was “completely and absolutely wrong,” he said: “It really is essential we have a Lord Chancellor who understand­s her constituti­onal duty.”

It is true that Liz Truss is not a legal expert, but there is a reason for this. The Lord Chancellor is no longer the judges’ leader. When New Labour came in, it was obsessivel­y keen to impose a continenta­l model upon the British legal system. This arid rationalis­m demanded the formal separation of politics from the law. It created a Supreme Court for the first time. It thought it wrong that the head of the judiciary should also be a cabinet minister.

So Tony Blair decided to abolish the Lord Chancellor­ship – the oldest non-monarchica­l secular office in the country. He failed, because he knew nothing of the ramificati­ons for the Crown. But he succeeded in downgradin­g the post. He created a Justice Ministry (another continenta­l idea) and tacked the Lord Chancellor’s residual roles on to that. So being justice secretary and Lord Chancellor became just another political job, rather than one requiring legal learning. There was no more need for a lawyer to occupy the post than for a doctor to be health secretary.

So the government­al system has lost its umbilical connection with the judiciary. The judges are right to regret this, but it is partly their fault. Most of them were in favour of the changes I have described above. Their enthusiasm for judicial activism and greater “independen­ce” has untuned the string of our legal arrangemen­ts. Hark what discord follows.

Once we have Brexited, we should restore our own legal system and put the Lord Chancellor (who would again be a senior lawyer) back in charge.

After PC Keith Palmer was murdered, the Police Memorial Trust quite rightly tweeted in his honour. The tweet said: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

The original English formulatio­n, spoken by Jesus in John’s Gospel (King James Bible), is “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

The word “man”, however, seems to have given the trust trouble – hence “no one” and “someone”. Unfortunat­ely, it was still stuck with “his”, perhaps baulking at “his or her”, so even the political correctnes­s was incorrect. Thus does gender-neutrality stifle the power of language.

After George Osborne’s appointmen­t as editor of the Evening Standard, the Committee on Standards in Public Life is looking again at the question of “second jobs” for MPs. No doubt it will focus on the more controvers­ial ones.

It should also consider, however, the positions not taken. Margaret Thatcher was the last prime minister to accept a peerage. All her successors – Sir John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron – have not done so. They all left the House of Commons quickly. Mr Cameron was so keen to get out that he did not even stay until the next general election but gave up his seat shortly after resigning as prime minister.

The committee should consider why. I am sure a serious reason is that all of the above did not wish to have their earnings declared, pored over and questioned, which would happen if they stayed in either House of Parliament.

Some might say that this shows the system is working: if ex-prime ministers cannot conform to an ethical code, it is right that they go. Many, however, may see it as a pity. None of the four ex-PMs, apart from Mr Blair, have excited much controvers­y with the paid roles they have taken on, and all – including Mr Blair – are a loss to Parliament. One of the unintended consequenc­es of heavy regulation is a draining of the talent pool. It’s easy for MPs and peers whose services no one wants to look more ethical than the highly paid ones, but it is not good for the country if they are the only people left in Parliament.

I have just laid down my mantle as annual president of the South of England Agricultur­al Society. This year is the 50th anniversar­y of the society’s summer show, so my successor is fittingly illustriou­s – the Duchess of Cornwall. Among her qualificat­ions is that she is a Sussex girl.

I cannot think of any useful tips to pass on. The president’s duties consist largely of wearing a bowler hat at the show and smiling. Being a woman, Her Royal Highness has only to do the latter.

But there is something to say about agricultur­al societies and the shows they lay on. We live in a strange age in which feeding the world has never been a greater task, yet many people act as if it can be done without farming. Such are the pressures on farming, half a century later, that it is very hard to imagine this summer show being started from scratch today.

What I have seen over the past 12 months deepens my conviction that farming has a future and still attracts people of great commitment and talent. But much of Britain does not know which side its bread is buttered, or what bread consists of, or where butter comes from. We must go on telling – and showing.

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