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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The government has a problem with lawyers

The government has a problem with lawyers

The government’s strained relationship with the Civil Service is a recurring story at the moment. Much of the disquiet seems to be the normal tit for tat exchanges immortalised by Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn. In the mean, ministers and their advisors express high regard for their officials.

But there are some resilient bones of contention between the government and its lawyers. Again, this is not unusual. When Gordon Brown was Chancellor, parliamentary counsel were exasperated by his inability to take decisions. Brown’s budgetary machinations were finalised in a predictably mad rush, which incensed those who had to amend the bill hours before it was put to parliament.

However, the growing volume of European and International law is deepening the divide between those who make laws and those who interpret them. This morning’s Independent reports that government lawyers advise that training or assisting the Libyan rebels is illegal. Back in February, the government was told that it would have to honour the ECHR’s prisoner voting judgment ‘even if Britain left the ECHR’. According to a leading barrister in the field, this is due to our treaty obligations to organisations such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation and the IMF. (Crucially, a British Bill of Rights would not supersede those jurisdictions, even if the government were seriously considering its introduction.)

The barrister says that the prisoner voting case is arguable, but government lawyers are discouraging confrontation. The Attorney General might seek an alternative view; but, as Tim Montgomerie revealed a couple of weeks ago, Dominic Grieve, a lawyer’s lawyer, empathises with Whitehall’s position. He is entitled to do so, but the stalemate in Libya and the prison voting saga is damaging the government politically. Dick the Butcher’s solution is rather extreme; but a second opinion might not be a bad idea.

Comment: What a pity that this "leading barrister" in the field is anonymous!

"The barrister says that the prisoner voting case is arguable". It was arguable because I argued it and won it before the highest court in Europe. All that remains is for the UK to fully comply with the ECtHR ruling in Hirst v UK (No2).

Until the UK toes the line it will remain in the dock. Besides the political pressure to comply from the Council of Europe and the UN, the EU has also joined forces against the UK.

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