Prosperity depends on rule of law
Leading lawyer concerned at missing aspect of chancellor’s reforms
A leading lawyer expressed concern this morning that that what he called “rule of law leadership” would be missing from Jeremy Hunt’s plans to restore the UK’s economic credibility today.
Murray Hunt, director of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, argued that — unless policy changes were made — the government would continue to inflict economic self-harm by failing to reverse the damage already done to the UK’s international reputation.
The lawyer expressed particular concern about new guidance to government lawyers on “legal risk” which was designed to loosen legal constraints on ministers in a hurry. The advice was issued by Suella Braverman when she was attorney general and is being followed by her as home secretary.
Under the new guidance, lawyers not only can, but should, advise that there is a sufficient legal basis to proceed, even if there is a high risk of a legal challenge succeeding.
Despite the attorney general’s responsibility as the government’s senior law officer for upholding the rule of law by helping ministers to comply with their overarching duty to comply with the law, the attorney general wanted to encourage ministers to take more risks over the legality of their policies and decisions. Is it really compatible with a minister’s duty to comply with the law to proceed with a law or policy in the face of expert legal advice that a legal challenge is highly likely to succeed?
We can see the consequences of this significant change of approach playing out before our eyes in the controversy surrounding whether the now home secretary “ignored legal advice” from officials that she would be acting unlawfully if she failed to approve alternative accommodation to reduce overcrowding at Manston processing centre.
Murray Hunt’s paper is published here.
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