MPs unhappy at role of attorney general

Baroness Scotland is the current attorney general
Baroness Scotland is the current attorney general

The role of the attorney general has come under further criticism today with MPs unhappy that the position still combines the function of chief legal adviser and government minister.

The report by the Commons' justice committee claims the revisions to the role proposed in the draft constitutional renewal bill do not answer the fundamental problem of maintaining public confidence in the position.

MPs instead have called for the legal and the political functions of the role to be split.

The role of the attorney general has come under severe scrutiny in recent years after the controversial decisions involving the legality of the Iraq war, the decision to halt the investigation into the BAE arms deal with Saudi Arabia and the cash for honours scandal.

All of the incidents led to criticism that the attorney general held a position within the cabinet while ruling on legal issues.

The justice committee today claimed that while some of the changes proposed in the draft constitutional renewal bill are useful there are still major issues of concern.

The committee said that there was no justification for giving the attorney general the formal power to halt investigations by the Serious Fraud Office, a power it does not hold over police investigations.

Committee chairman Sir Alan Beith said: "The main areas that concern the public about the attorney general's role arise from fears that a politician, sitting in cabinet and with the traditional collective responsibility for the decisions of that cabinet, may not be independent when acting as legal adviser on major political decisions, or making the decision about ending prosecutions, or in some cases investigations.

"The legal powers of the role, the powers to bring or intervene in legal proceedings, and of being chief legal adviser to the government, could surely all be better performed by a non-political office holder," he added.

Sir Alan further suggested the attorney general's ministerial role "should remain with a political office holder".

"This bill has been called more of a "constitutional retreat bill" than a constitutional renewal bill and on this issue certainly we feel that it fails to achieve the purpose given to constitutional reform by the prime minister: it gives greater power to the executive and it does not add to transparency."


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