We have received a number of e-mails from our readers in the past couple of days asking for our views on the decision (or, at least, attempt) by Tony Blair to abolish the office of the Lord Chancellor which he announced as a part of his cabinet reshuffle at the end of last week.
The Office of Lord Chancellor has been around for some 1400 years. He is the head and the overseer of the Judiciary and he is responsible for appointing Judges and running the Courts. But, he is also a member of the Executive as he sits in the Cabinet. He is, if you will, the interface between the Executive and the Judiciary. Some have suggested that this is a less than ideal method for ensuring judicial independence but, in fact, rigourous observance of custom has served to maintain judicial independence very effectively for a very long time.
Blair intends to abolish the Chancellor and replace him with a independent committee to appoint Judges and an ‘Office of the Constitution’ to advice the government on constitutional matters. This has all presented (to the extent that it has been explained at all) as merely the latest stage of the Blair ‘modernisation’ agenda which is intended to provide us with more accountable, responsive government…yadda, yadda, yadda.
What is not being said (but which, fortunately, is not being overlooked) is that Blair is trying to eradicate Britain’s remaining constitutional arrangements so as to render us more EU-compatible. Not to mention, of course, that the new offices are highly likely to be staffed with manipulable Blairite cronies.
However, this is not quite all going to plan. There is a hubbub from senior Judges and much of the press and Blair has been forced to give a statement explaining his actions in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Added to which, there is the possibility of a legal challenge because nobody seems quite sure whether the Prime Minister actually has the power to abolish the Lord Chancellor. As best as I can tell, the power may exist but, by custom, it has never been exercised so nobody is entirely sure if it does, in fact, exist and, if so, under what circumstances it may be exercised.
Oh it’s all a big mess and it is for that reason that we have not yet (as some or our readers inquired) plunged in with our usual robust denunciations and insights. This is just one of a whole batch of country-altering measures that the executive seems to be rushing into enactment with unseemly haste. In fact, the hits are coming so thick and so fast that it is difficult to keep up to date with it all, even for a group effort like this blog.
My take, for what it’s worth, is that all this chaos is the result of Blair’s fawning promises to Brussels. Suddenly, he has realised that we are not ‘Europeanised’ enough to be swallowed whole and hence the frantic, sweaty haste to disassemble our constitutional arrangements and render us fit to be served up to new masters. A fitting metaphor I reckon for Blair and his minsters seem as nothing more than harrassed waiters working frenetically to prepare the banquet table prior to the imminent swarm of hungry VIPs.
The day soon cometh, methinks.