The Lord Subversive Chancellor

Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, stoutly defended the Government in Thursday night's debate on the sentencing White Paper, and yesterday's appointments of England's two top judges might presage a temporary lull in the warfare between politicians and the judiciary. But even here, could it be a case of Mackay the Subversive all over again?

This was the man, as pundits on the right are swift to point out, who recently promoted Mr Justice Brook to the Court of Appeal after his long tenure at the anti-family values Law Commission that gave us the Family Law Bill. And now come two more radicals, at least one of them a "liberal", poised to defend judicial review against a political backlash and, after years of prevarication, finish off the reform of a resistant legal profession by removing remaining restrictions on solicitors' rights of audience.

That particular exercise - the only overhaul she failed to achieve in one go - was set in train by Margaret Thatcher, and by appointing the Scottish outsider Lord Mackay to do it, the Tories got more than they bargained for. Hence the massed opposition of all the Cabinet QCs to any more erosions of the barristers' higher court monopoly.

But naturally, the aspect of yesterday's appointments that has provoked most outrage on the right is the commitment of Sir Thomas Bingham and Lord Woolf to incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights and all its vile works. The fact is that the Lord Chancellor must pick from the best of an increasingly enlightened pool.

Lord Mackay must be the embodiment of that cliched catch-phrase, "you can't please all of the people all of the time". The latest outburst of fury against the judiciary is judged to be partly his fault. Yet he was literally spurned by the judicial upper ranks - at that time most of them conservative, at least with a small 'c', when he attempted to carry out Lady Thatcher's will.

After eight years of travails, the question must be whether this abstemious, God-fearing, upright and honest Scottish outsider could really care at all any more about what the English conservative establishment thinks.

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