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Derry's Air

February 2001

A great fuss. Lord Irvine, our Lord Chancellor and the man in charge of selecting those who are to become silks and judges, invited labour lawyers to a dinner for the purpose of raising funds for the Labour Party. For a man who professes such superlative intelligence, it was a crass, stupid mistake. For such a man, this must be either arrogance or incompetence. No doubt he can choose.

Why is this wrong? The position of Lord Chancellor is one of the last darker corners of our constitution. He shares three duties. He is head of the judiciary, speaker of te House of Lords, and therefore a member of the legislature, and and a politician, a member of the cabinet. His methods of making appointments have already been the subject of severe criticism, and there has been no transparency in how judges and silks are selected. He chooses. He takes advice if he wants from whom and from where he wants. He is not subject to interrogation if anyone asks why this or that person receives or does not receive advancement.

A lot of people look direct to him for their careers. Exactly those people were asked to stump up for the Labour party. He might not know the individual donations, but we do not know that he didn't. He is bound to know that this or that lawyer was present, and may have noticed one or two to be absent. Will this affect their careers? Who knows. We only know that, looking at it from a distance, a dank mist arises which just might smell.

Should he resign? No. What should he do? He should certainly apologise - which would probably be more difficult for one so full of himself. He should make a better thing from a worse, and make a clear declaration that he will not personally take any future part in the selection of judges and silks, and will undertake that most beloved of Labour activities, a review, with a view to seeing how his duties might best be divided and dissolved. To continue in this way risks bringing disgrace to what has been one of the great offices of state.

He spoke in the house yesterday. He felt he had done nothing wrong, and unconvincingly bleated that if he had done something wrong he would have apologised. Hands up all those who believe him. He defended himself by rebutting arguments which had not been put. He said
  • previous chancellors had been political. Yes, but that is not the issue.
  • that previous Lord Chancellors had been involved in fund raising. Again, he deliberately does not answer the point.

His best point is that he promised a commissioner. Again, however, this is misleading. He is not divesting himself of his powers of patronage, he is merely allowing someone else to peer into the murky depths of his own mind to see perhaps how the appointment has been made.

He singularly failed to address the point of the criticism he faced. As a clever man, he must know this. Is his readiness to dissemble to the House of Lords a sign of how he will answer the new commissioner, when asked why x is appointed to the bench?

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18 October 2013 436 18 October 2013