Lord Chancellor under fire for appointments pledge u-turn…

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, has refused to face any questioning from the legal profession at this week's Solicitors' Annual Conference in Cardiff.

Lord Irvine is expected to unveil his long-awaited reforms for legal aid and civil justice at the conference on Saturday.

But delegates will not get the chance to quiz the Lord Chancellor about the reforms, even though he is billed to take part in a panel discussion with Law Society president Phillip Sycamore and Bar chairman Robert Owen QC.

A spokeswoman from the Lord Chancellor's Department said the original invitation to the conference had been to Lord Irvine's predecessor Lord Mackay, who had accepted.

She said Lord Irvine had been unaware of the panel discussion when he agreed to take Lord Mackay's place, and it was unfair to suggest that Lord Irvine was delivering a snub to the legal profession. “He is making a major speech that people will need to think about and reflect on,” she said.

The Law Society is playing down Lord Irvine's refusal to take questions from solicitors. “It's not really a big deal,” said a spokesman.

Lord Irvine is gaining something of a reputation for his unwillingness to face questions. When he announced BZW chairman Sir Peter Middleton's inquiry into the civil justice system only certain journalists were invited and he laid down strict ground rules about the scope of the questioning.