Dual role of attorney general must be split, say UK Mps


London : An all-party group of MPs Tuesday criticized the government’s proposed changes to the role of the attorney general as not going far enough.

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The role of government’s chief legal adviser should not be held by a politician, the parliamentary justice committee said. Plans do not provide for a “clear split in the role” between legal adviser and minister, it said.

The dual role of the attorney general has provoked controversy on such issues as the advice he gave to the government over the legality of the Iraq war and in ending a fraud investigation into Britain’s biggest arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

In a report on the government’s Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, the committee said changes outlined about the position of the attorney general “do not answer the fundamental problem of maintaining public confidence in the role.”

The Bill “fails to achieve the purpose given to constitutional reform by the prime minister” who said last June that the role “which combines legal and ministerial functions needs to change.” It said instead it gave “greater powers to the executive” and “does not sufficiently increase transparency.” The legal powers of the role “could surely all be better performed by a non-political office holder,” it added.

With regard to the probe into the multi-billion Yamamah arms deal signed with Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, the committee said the attorney general should not have the power to halt investigations by the Serious Fraud Office.

Halting the investigation, former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith announced it was threatening national security, but the MPs said the prime minister should make a judgement if there are “genuine national security grounds” and be held accountable for it.