Clarke embraces tradition to become Lord Chancellor

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Indy Politics

Rumours that Ken Clarke would break with hundreds of years of legal tradition by appearing wigless at his own swearing in ceremony as the new Lord Chancellor came to nothing yesterday.

The Conservative heavyweight, as famous for his suede shoes and crumpled suits as he is for his political longevity, took the awkward formality in his stride when he was welcomed by the country's senior judiciary at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

In full-bottomed wig and resplendent in a black and gold gown the Secretary of State for Justice was sworn into an office which has its origins as far back as the Norman Conquest.

He follows in the footsteps of an illustrious roll call including Sir Thomas More, Lord Hailsham and New Labour's first office holder, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who famously compared himself to Cardinal Wolsey.

Shortly afterwards Tony Blair tried to abolish the office but met with opposition from the judges and the lords who objected to ending such an important constitutional role.

At the same ceremony yesterday MPs Dominic Grieve QC and Edward Garnier QC were sworn in as Attorney General and Solicitor General respectively and they were welcomed in their new roles by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, who extended the good wishes of the judiciary as they took up their new responsibilities.

Mr Clarke, 69, a QC, said he was "honoured" to become Lord Chancellor, and pledged to respect the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the independence of the legal profession. He told the many members of the judiciary present in court for the occasion that he looked forward to their support, adding: "I hope I can live up to the very considerable responsibilities which I am conscious I have undertaken."

In a statement, Mr Grieve, MP for Beaconsfield since 1997, expressed his "delight" at the appointment and said: "I am particularly pleased to be in a position to contribute to the Government's civil liberties agenda, which is a personal priority for me; to work to improve access to justice and to ensure the rule of law strongly underpins everything we do."

The Attorney General fulfils the role of chief legal adviser to the Government and superintends the principal prosecuting authorities within England and Wales, and the Solicitor General supports the Attorney across the range of his responsibilities.

Mr Garnier, Harborough MP since 1992, said being Law Officer was "a great opportunity to promote fairness".