Letter: Matters for the judicial mind

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The Independent Online
Sir: An unnoticed answer to a question recently asked in the House of Lords appears, possibly by inadvertence, to have indicated a further delegation from the responsibilities hitherto resting upon the Law Officers.

In answer to a question by Lord Strabolgi about the prosecution of suspected war criminals the Minister of State at the Home Office, Earl Ferrers, said on 7 July:

But the decision to prosecute will be taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions after consultation with the Attorney General

This is not correct. It is the Attorney General himself, who, applying his judicial mind to the matter, has to decide whether it is in the public interest to prosecute in a particular case.

The Director of Public Prosecutions acts under the direction of the Attorney General, who, as Lord Simon (following Lord Birkenhead) said '. . . should absolutely decline to receive orders from the Prime Minister, the Cabinet or anybody else that he should prosecute'.

This doctrine was very recently subscribed to by those concerned in the administration of the law, including the Lord Chancellor, the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

It is the case that pressure of other work, namely in advising Parliament or ministers on particular legal problems, has resulted in the Law Officers being unable to appear in court with any frequency, as they used to do. It would, however, be a further and serious inroad on their constitutional responsibilities if there were, without parliamentary discussion, a further delegation of administrative functions to civil servants, however able - as the DPP clearly is.

Yours truly,

SHAWCROSS

House of Lords

London, SW1

13 July

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