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Just who is Jeremy Wright? Lawyers have never heard of new attorney general

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Dominic Grieve QC replaced by a non-silk who promotes his ability to video-conference with the best of them

Lead

Jeremy Wright was met with a resounding cry of “Who he?” this morning as he slipped into the Whitehall offices of the attorney general to begin his role of overseeing the Director of Public Prosecutions and beefing up lenient sentences handed down by woolly-headed liberal judges.

As a sample of legal profession tweets illustrates, Wright — a relative child at 41, who was called to the bar at Inner Temple in 1996 — has hardly set the legal profession ablaze, despite being a non-practising member of the biggest chambers in the country, No5 in Birmingham.

Chamberspro

“I know absolutely nothing about our new attorney general,” tweets one silk. Indeed, the two most remarkable points about Wright appear to be that he is not a QC and he claims to be highly proficient in video conferencing.

jez4

The legal sector Twitterati has landed on the second point with glee and mocking delight — the general view being that these days just about everyone at the bar has had to deal with new communications technology at some stage.

“The new attorney general has done video links,” quips one social media commentator. “I guess the first step to becoming AG is to have Skype.”

Jez2

Another sarcastically comments: “Reassuring that new AG Jeremy ‘who he?’ Wright has ‘experience in cases using a video link’”.

jez1

Another black mark for fresh-faced Wright is that he is replacing legal profession matinee idol Dominic Grieve QC. As the Law Gazette pointed out, Grieve “was regarded in the legal community as a sympathetic voice in the cabinet over such issues as cuts in legal aid. He has also spoken in support of the Human Rights Act.”

The Guardian newspaper noted that Wright — the MP for West Midlands seat Kenilworth and Southam since 2005 — has so far kept his cards close to his chest on the issue of whether the UK should ditch the Human Rights Act.

Wright was appointed as a junior justice minister two years ago with responsibility for prisons and rehabilitation. Politically, the main point commentators highlight is that he appears to be a bit of a government yes-man, not raising a whimper of protest over the proposed HS2 railway, which is planned to blast through his constituency.

Jez7

One legal profession constituent tweeted the robust view that Wright is “useless”, slamming him for having “fully supported all cuts & gov & Grayling attacks” on legal aid and criminal law specialist barristers, despite himself being a member of the Criminal Bar Association.

jez6

Another Twitter wag compares the new AG to the chauvinistic and misguidedly self-important character of Ron Burgundy from the 2004 film “Anchorman”. Says the tweeter: “He has many leather bound books and his apartment smells of rich mahogany. He’s kind of a big deal.”

jez5

35 Comments

@BarristerTM

He looks about ten

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Dave

God, barristers can be so bloody arrogant. A sample of some of the themes on twitter and which I have heard in my chambers:

– You aren’t a “proper” lawyer unless you are a distinguished barrister at a leading London public/commercial chambers.

– You shouldn’t be AG unless you are some sort of grey-bearded silk.

– ‘No.5 Chambers? Never heard of it’: funny that, here was me thinking it is the largest set in the country with impressive members and a track record of its barristers progressing to the bench.

– ‘A criminal hack as AG? Well I never’

I could go on. Barristers can be extremely snotty and arrogant. The truth is that most of them are deadly jealous that it isn’t them being appointed AG, and it kills many of them.

Let’s be honest – you don’t need to be some sort of public law wizard to be AG. You have hundreds of civil servants working for you, and lots of Panel Counsel ready to write you a legal opinion at the drop of a hat. You don’t even need to appear in court for the government really – and tbh I think it is far more appropriate for the AG to pass that task on to the Treasury Devil or A Panel Counsel.

I’d rather have a lawyer who is a clued up politician (though admittedly one who still has a bit of ‘lawyer’ left in him) than one of these snotty barristers.

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Richard Reynolds

Are you using “lawyer” to mean “solicitor”? because he is a barrister also. If you think the objection is he is a solicitor I think you missed the point. It is that, given he is a barrister, why the hell would they go for one this junior and (relatively) unaccomplished.

Given the AG is not the client of the Treasury devil/panel counsel, he is rather the chief legal adviser to the cabinet, I would suggest that he probably should have a pretty good understanding of public law, though if he is able to advise a little better on contempt issues arising from commenting on criminal trials that would be an improvement. there are plenty of criminal silks/senior-juniors out there who would be perfectly capable of advising on public law but he does not appear to be one.

(Here’s a question is he not in breach of the Code by taking this job?)

The Treasury lists, even the Devil, are there to assist the AG, almost (somewhat ironically) “devil” for him, or represent individual departments. The AG is the cabinet’s lawyer… not just, or even mostly, a politician.

His appointment demonstrates the government’s inability to understand this, which just adds to the general feeling that they don’t understand some fairly important and foundational concepts to do with the rule of law.

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Dave

I’m fully aware he is a barrister.

You have a very olde worlde view of the role of AG. AG is a dogsbody post that no ambitious politician in their right mind would take on. It is also the graveyard of political ambition – nearly no one moves on to anything bigger afterwards.

Furthermore it is a purely advisory, non-strategic role. The AG’s job is to use his staff to provide advice to the cabinet. His job is not that of a lawyer – i.e. advising people personally, but more akin to the advisory functions of a civil service department.

He does not need to be a genius lawyer. He has plenty of genius lawyers (if there is such a thing) working for him in the AG’s Office, as Treasury Devils, and on the A, B, C Panels.

Its a pretty safe bet that as a barrister he will have more than a basic grasp of public law principles. To suggest otherwise needs some proof. And to suggest that the new AG doesn’t understand the rule of law is quite frankly something you and the others should be ashamed of.

Do other cabinet ministers have to be experts in their fields? No. They have loads of civil servants to advise them and the good ones learn their brief quickly. Let’s wait to judge the AG shall we?

And by the way before anyone asks, I hate the Tories. I just hate snotty arrogant people more.

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Matthew

I’m sorry that you “hate the Tories”. Some might see that as rather a snotty and even arrogant attitude.

Never mind.

Your argument that the AG is a “dogsbody” post that almost anyone can do because there’s lots of civil servants could be applied to virtually any government job.

But the AG does have to make incredibly important personal decisions. The legality of the Iraq invasion was an example. Of course he can just do what his ministers tell him, like Jim Hacker in Yes Minister, but it’s surely better if he has the weight and expertise to bring something more than his dog’s body to the party.

Jeremy Wright may be a clever chap but he has very limited legal experience compared to previous attorney generals and there is every reason to fear that he’s been brought in simply because Dominic Grieve gave unpalatable advice about the European Convention on Human Rights.

People do sometimes sack their lawyers because they don’t like their advice but it is not usually a very good reason.

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Dave

Legality of the Iraq war – not the best example of an AG thinking independently and refusing to obey the party line?

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Not Amused

Well I don’t hate the Tories but I think it is perfectly acceptable for the legal profession to highlight that a relatively junior lawyer, of no distinguishing legal skill or achievement has been appointed to such a senior legal role in government.

If we don’t point it out then how on earth is the country supposed to know?

It is difficult to think of an analogy but IF there was an important constitutional role of Doctor to the Government then I think the medical profession would be entirely justified in responding to the appointment of a junior doctor with the phrase “errr hang on a second …”.

He *might* be a brilliant and amazing candidate who is far better in person than on paper, but given that it is our country, I think the people are allowed to question who is appointed to very senior governmental positions without being accused en masse of “snobbishness”.

I think you should spend less time attacking everyone else. I confess my reaction was “who he?” and that I am not known as the largest snob in Christendom (at least not to my face). So if you want to do something useful then educate me on who he is – don’t try wasting my time by telling me that the AG is not important anymore – thank you for your (odd) opinion, but in my world the AG is important and I would quite like it to be someone worthy of the role!

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Dave

Re doctor – the equivalent would be the Secretary of State for Health. OK, the AG is different in that his department (note the word – department) provides legal advice to cabinet, rather than organise who the system operates. But this is exactly the same as the lawyers making the invalid point that the Secretary of State for Justice shouldn’t be a non lawyer.

“how is the country meant to know”. You miss the point. It doesn’t matter and they don’t really care.

How about the legal profession pass comment on his actual beliefs or ability to run an office, rather than silly comment on whether or not he’s a good barrister? Such comments are based on a narrow world view confined largely to the Inns of Court, and a misplaced sense of superiority. If you don’t know how good an administrator he is how about you wait and see? Last time I checked you didn’t have to have a long history of ministerial office to hold a minor ministerial post.

Or how about the lawyers pass comment on the quality of staff in the Attorney General’s Office? Or the quality of Panel Counsel (I know there are a few duff ones).

It seems that 99% of comments are based on irrevancies.

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Stephen

Secretary of State for Health doesn’t quite convey it. I think a better comparison is perhaps Surgeon General of the United States (although that’s also a military role as well).

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absurd

the bar is so bitchy

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Ludicrous

Is Dave actually grayling in disguise?

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Dave

LOL. My point about snotty lawyers proven.

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Alex R

If anybody tried pulling the corner of the Lincolnshire Echo whilst I was reading it, I imagine I would have to smack them hard in the fucking face. Am consequently unsure whether he will make a good A-G on this politically neutral litmus test.

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Richard Reynolds

A good summary of my feelings on this (though not written by me):
http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2014/07/17/the-tory-human-rights-car-crash/

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James

Was in the robing room today speaking to members of his chambers about him being AG. They couldn’t stop laughing.

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HYUFD

7/2014 at 9:04 pm
Knew Jeremy Wright when I was chairman of Warwick Uni Tories and he was Chairman of Warwick and Leamington Conservatives, he is a very pleasant, shrewd man and if he does not go down well with the ridiculously pompous top end of the London commercial bar then all to the good, as a provincial criminal barrister he has experience of what the majority of barristers work involves. I would also argue he is just as qualified as some recent holders of the post like Baroness Scotland and unlike Lord Goldsmith is unlikely to give dubious advice on the case for a war killing millions.

Stephen The Surgeon General of the US is always a senior officer in the navy, not the most distinguished surgeon in the land and the US Health Secretary can be as non medical as the UK Health Secretary

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Not Amused

“if he does not go down well with the ridiculously pompous top end of the London commercial bar then all to the good, as a provincial criminal barrister he has experience of what the majority of barristers work involves”

Don’t let facts get in the way of prejudice, eh?

Of the six individuals named:

– one is a criminal legal aid silk
– two are not barristers
– one is a London legal aid junior
– one is a criminal legal aid junior from a set with multiple regional offices
– one is a family barrister from Birmingham

I know this because I a) have google and b) am not a bigot.

These rather ‘Putin-esq’ attempts to smear or dismiss criticism of the appointment of a relatively junior and ‘unspectacular on paper candidate’ to the post of AG just won’t wash. The fact is that several barristers have been caught on twitter laughing at the appointment. Several others express reservations privately.

You cannot dismiss all criticism out of hand. You cannot try to use prejudice against London and commercial barristers to cause this issue to go away. Who will you blame next in your bigoted little crusade to irrationally defend your mate?

I am embarrassed for you at your level of debate. You ought to be too.

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HYUFD

I could not care less what some barristers think, he is a Minister of the Crown, not a spokesman for the Bar. Nor could I care less about what you think of my debating skills as this is not a debate, he is a Minister who provides advice to the Government on legal issues, that Minister has to be in Parliament, which Jeremy is, and a lawyer, which Jeremy is, until he has done the job who knows what he will be like. He did a perfectly good job as Prisons Minister, no reason he should not do the same as A-G, he has plenty of top legal brains to assist him, in any case he is unlikely to send troops to war on dubious pretences unlike a recent predecessor

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Not Amused

Unapologetic when wrong, rude, a panderer to prejudice and bigotry, a poor debater with autocratic tendencies and/or a excessive deference – with friends like you poor Mr Wright hardly needs our concerns.

I note you did not apologise for your bigoted and wrong statement: although you must accept it was wrong. You do tend towards sweeping rhetorical statements and frankly it is something I would advise you steered clear of. With this report – Prisoner “gouges his own eyes out” in protest at heat inside cell [Nottingham Post] – I wouldn’t be too quick to cast anyone in the business of our prisons as glowing with competence right now.

Fundamentally I think you have misunderstood what democracy is. But I rehearsed these arguments with ‘Dave’ before (who FYI many readers may well imagine to be you) so I don’t see the value in repeating them.

You have wandered in to a ‘room’ full of lawyers and made sweeping statements. You have postulated (and stuck to) the argument that we are not entitled to an opinion. You now invoke the Crown in some bizarre bid for deference; that is unwise. Lawyers are seldom deferential; particularly where that deference is not earned (which has rather been our point about Mr Wright).

We are, contrary to your aggressive, odd and sometimes bigoted views, entitled to our opinion – whether you like it or not. Just as I am entitled to judge you (as no doubt others are) – I have done, I find you wanting. You may well find me pompous, it will not sting me: because you seek to deny some educated and well informed lawyers the right to an opinion – you are much more dangerous than I will ever be.

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HYUFD

I notice you spent your entire first paragraph launching into a tirade of abuse, I have no wish to lower myself to your level so I will move on. As for a prisoner gouging his eyes out because his prison cell was too hot, well no one forced him to gouge his eyes out that was his own affair. According to the article the temperature was 24C, maybe not perfect, but hardly the Sahara either, and everyone is coping with hot and humid conditions at present

A democracy is rule by elected representatives of the people, nothing more, nothing less, with the odd referendum thrown in on major matters of constitutional significance.

The Attorney General is a Cabinet Minister who must come from Parliament, either the Commons or the Lords, and his appointment is in the gift of the PM acting on behalf of the Queen, other than being a lawyer what lawyers think of him is utterly irrelevant beyond their potential ability to vote him out if they live in his constituency along with every other elector who resides there.

So yes have your ‘opinion’ if you wish, an ‘opinion’ it seems to me prejudged and reached before the man has even started the job, but it really will not have the slightest bit of impact beyond the opinion of anyone else on the matter!

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Not Amused

Leaving aside your decidedly odd views that everyone should ‘know their place’, you appear to have forgotten that the whole point you are here is because our opinions (which you so graciously dismiss) lead to a negative news story in the press. Now there are at least two.

You really aren’t helping.

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Law and Order

In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence

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Richard Reynolds

@Law and Order – the best adage to justify the independent bar surely!

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Not Amused

My apologies, I see the Spectator has picked up on the issue too. So that’s 3 negative stories, all because of those irrelevant opinions of ours

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HYUFD

If anyone has been saying people should ‘know their place’ it is you by suggesting lawyers should be the only profession in the country with the right of veto of a Cabinet Minister over the decision of the elected Prime Minister. Lawyers with too much time on their hands lead to column in current affairs magazine which needs a story for its new issue is hardly earthshattering news now is it!! In any case, as the first comment sensibly points out the whole point Steerpike makes is highly dubious anyway because of the principle of parliamentary sovereignty

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Not Amused

I think your loyalty to your friend (often a highly commendable trait) is blinding you to reason – because you aren’t addressing the points I actually raise. I never asked for any veto – you can’t argue against me if you are just going to make my side of the argument up. I also don’t quite see the need to use so many exclamation marks (FYI it can come across as unhinged).

I’ve also *still* not had an apology for your rather bigoted statement about the London Commercial Bar.

The point about the Spectator argument (FYI the Spectator is a right leaning publication often seen as supporting the conservative party) is that they said this:

“Given that, earlier today, the relatively unknown MP Jeremy Wright, who was recently appointed Attorney General, was sworn in as QC”

You see our point all along has been that it is quite odd to appoint a relative unknown, who is a relatively inexperienced lawyer, with a relatively poor CV, to such an important role.

In contrast you have sort of veered about a bit in your arguments. Sometimes saying we should shut up because we’re in London. Sometimes saying we aren’t entitled to an opinion at all. Sometimes trying to say ‘shut up’ because of the ‘Crown’ and seeming to invoke some odd sense of deference. And a few times you’ve tried the ‘AG isn’t an important job’ argument. When your arguments start to self contradict, or get a bit ‘wild’, people can be forgiven for thinking that your main motivation is not your arguments veracity, but instead the defence of your chum.

In contrast, when a right leaning mainstream publication picks up on what other sources are saying is an odd appointment then I don’t think lawyers can be accused of some horrible conspiracy if all we are doing is pointing out that the appointment is a bit odd. It is an odd appointment. It is my opinion it is an odd appointment. Several lawyers appear to agree with me. The press appears to increasingly agree with me. I don’t think you frothing at the mouth is really going to change that so I would give in before you look like a loon (if I were you – of course if I were you I would have apologised when I was wrong).

You see you look a bit like a child with his fingers in his ears saying “it’s not odd it’s not odd it’s not” while the rest of us very quietly point out that it is an odd appointment.

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HYUFD

Firstly, he is not my friend, more an acquaintance who I have good dealings with in the past. I am not going to apologise for anything as much of the commentary about his appointment was that he was not a London based commercial lawyer, but then neither were previous appointments such as Baroness Scotland for example.

Yes, I have read the Spectator before you may be surprised to know, like any publication it has some articles I agree with, some I do not, he has practised at the bar and if the PM sees fit to appoint him his legal adviser that is his prerogative not yours. Attorney General is a Ministerial Appointment like any other, ably assisted by scores of highly able legal minds in his department and elsewhere, you do not have to be an unparalleled genius to do it, and given the recent controversies over Michael Havers and Lord Goldsmith, whether right or wrong, previous incumbents have hardly always covered themselves in glory in the post despite having the approved of m’learned friends now have they!

The press can say what they like, they have been critical of many Cabinet Ministers in the past whatever side of the fence they sit on politically, but ultimately it is the PM democratically elected to lead the government who runs the country, not the media!

Odd or not I prefer to judge after he has had a period in the role, not shout insults before he has even started!

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DC

You seem unable to distinguish between having the right to appoint the AG, which is as you so astutely point out vested in the PM, and the right to criticise that appointment, which right is vested in everyone. Simply stating repeatedly “the PM can appoint who he likes” is not a substantive response to the criticisms that have been made of the appointment. I am fairly sure (though willing to be corrected) that Not Amused is not thinking about co-opting the constitutional role of the PM.

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HYUFD

I would hope not, ultimately the PM will have his reasons for making the appointment, I suggest we wait and see how Jeremy Wright performs in the role before rushing to judgement, as I said earlier, some of his predecessors have hardly performed the role brilliantly as recent news has made clear, and many of those were allegedly highly ‘distinguised’

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Not Amused

You don’t engage with argument. You don’t respond to valid criticism. You just keep posting that we should all ‘know our place’.

As DC says you fail to understand or fail to engage with out of choice, the fact that we are entitled to our opinions.

Fundamentally you are a dishonest man. I can say this because you, once again, stated: “much of the commentary about his appointment was that he was not a London based commercial lawyer”. That is demonstrably untrue. If you repeat things which are demonstrably untrue, after the untruthfulness is pointed out to you, then you are a dishonest person.

I fail to see what credibility you can possibly imagine you have or why anyone should engage with you on a rational level – I know I shall now stop trying.

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HYUFD

You seem clearly unable to distinguish between ‘much’ of the commentary and ‘all’ the commentary. There is no doubt that much of the commentary certainly from some members of the legal profession was indeed critical of the fact that he practised for No 5 chambers in the provinces before being elected to Parliament, had been practising at a top London commercial or even public before being elected I daresay some of the criticism may have been less vocal.

It is also actually you who does nothing but issue insults, and I have never once posted lawyers should ‘know their place’, but accept that their opinion on the appointment of a the Attorney General as a Cabinet Minister has exactly the same weight as the opinion of teachers on the education secretary, doctors on the health secretary, soldiers on the armed forces, businessmen on the business secretary, financiers on the Chancellor, the police on the Home Secretary, figures from the arts on the culture secretary etc. Clearly you have failed to accept that obvious point and if you wish to concede the argument I will gladly accept.

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DC

Oh dear… You debate in the way that many people do in the pub when they’re five pints down; that is, changing your argument and shifting the territory of the dispute at will. Trouble is, on a comments page everything you said is written down and available for review. Give it up.

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HYUFD

The 2 key points I have consistently made are:

a) The Attorney General is a Cabinet Minister like any other, and provided he meets the criteria of being in parliament and a lawyer his or her appointment is in the gift of the elected Prime Minister, lawyers can criticise their appointment, just like any other person or any other profession, but their views should not be given undue weight over those of anyone else.

b) Some of the many supposedly ‘distinguished’ lawyers who have held the job, have hardly covered themselves in glory, as evident with Lord Goldsmith over his advice on the case for war in Iraq, or Michael Havers, as recent news has brought to light, in relation to his gagging of Geoffrey Dickens in relation to the dossier he held on alleged child abuse.

You cannot judge how anyone does the job until they have actually done it. If you wish to already dismiss Jeremy Wright before he has even started that is your affair, I prefer to judge him on how he actually handles the job. On that note, I suggest we leave it there and wait and see how he performs!

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HYUFD

I also suggest you read some of Dave’s sensible comments upthread

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AF

I know this man. He’s my local MP. He’s a complete and utter yes man in every way possible. He’s been recruited in to the AG position because he will support Cameron in ridding themselves of human rights and previous AGs were not supportive of this approach. I heckled him at the Christmas Light Switch on in Kenilworth and will do so again this year.

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