Attorney General gets twenty-first century overhaul

The Attorney General is set to lose its power to green light particular cases and government prosecutions, it was announced yesterday (25 March).

Key changes to the role of the Attorney General have been proposed after a four month consultation into the historic role to ensure greater transparency and accountability.

Attorney General Baroness Scotland said that the consultation was part of her commitment to rebalance the power between the executive and legislature.

“The reforms I am outlining today have addressed those areas where there is potential for conflict, whilst at the same time enhancing the administration of justice, the maintenance of the rule of law and the protection of the public interest,” said Scotland.

The Attorney General’s Office said that the package of reforms represents the biggest change to the role of the Attorney General in a generation, and is designed to ensure the role is fit for purpose for the 21st century

By removing the Attorney General’s power of direction it means that she can no longer direct proceedings pursued by prosecuting authorities she oversees, such as the Crown Prosecution Service and Serious Fraud Office. The elimination of her consent powers will also see the Attorney General cease to have the power to stop a trial on indictment.

In addition to limiting these powers the Attorney General will have limited power of direction in National security cases, though no change is proposed to her role as the Government’s chief legal adviser.

The Attorney General’s oath will be amended to require her to “respect the rule of law” putting emphasis on the need for her to be the guardian of the rule of law and act in the public interest, rather than on the basis of political convenience or party loyalty.

Scotland’s attendance to Cabinet will remain but her accountability to Parliament will be enhanced by a number of measures to improve transparency including introducing protocol to the Attorney General’s relationship with the prosecuting authorities and providing an annual report on her Office to Parliament.

The Attorney General proposals are part of the Government’s Governance of Britain Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill published today, which Justice Secretary Jack Straw said gives more power to Parliament.

Straw said: “The reforms proposed today are a significant commitment to ensure that power lies where it should – with Parliament and the people.”

The proposals include removing the Prime Minister from the process for appointing Supreme Court judges and reducing the Lord Chancellor’s role in appointing below the High Court.

It is also lifting restrictions on protests around Parliament and giving Parliament a clear process to approve decisions about going to war.