25 OCTOBER 1963, Page 5

Centaur Surviving

'Mr. Attorney' (as he is called in the Courts) is of course more than the Number One barrister. He is the Government's legal adviser; he is answerable to Parliament on legal issues; and he represents the Administration in the heavier sort of litigation including tax cases and in criminal trials where there is a serious political issue at stake. He is therefore something of a centaur— half politician and half lawyer. But unlike the mythological beast it is virtually impossible to say where the line is drawn between the two parts. Is he simply the lawyer when in court or is he still entitled to apply political criteria to his conduct of a trial?

No one has ever given a convincing answer to this question. The position of the law officers is a difficult one to justify and is fraught with danger. Why is it necessary for an influential member of the Government to step down from his parliamentary role and become an advocate pre- senting the Government's case in Court? There are many unpolitical lawyers who could carry out this function just as well, and who could relieve the law officers of a task which often proves in- vidious and politically embarrassing (the Labour Government's prosecution of the gas strikers comes to mind). Why is it necessary to call upon the Solicitor-General to argue a complicated tax case (usually supported by semi-specialists)? The answer can hardly be that there are some political situations to which the Court should pay regard and to which the law officers alone can do justice.

The Spectator has asked 'these questions and pointed out the dangers before. It is an extra- ordinary comment on our constitution that if an adverse decision had been given by the benchers of the Inner Temple in a case highly charged with political overtones the future not merely of a professional man but also perhaps of the Government itself would have been affected.

' "They come! They come!" He cried hoarsely. "Our foes are at hand."'