20th March 2003
Thank you for inviting me to join you at your annual dinner. I know that the AG enjoyed it when he joined you for last year’s annual dinner.
But at least he got to eat the dinner – I’m afraid for reasons that I know you will understand I’ve arrived too late for that.
But I’m delighted to be here to mention – briefly some of the work that we – as Law Officers - have been involved in over the past year – particularly where it affects your work as solicitors working in commerce and industry.
As you said in your introduction – I’m Solicitor General. When I was appointed to the post immediately after the last election - about 2 years ago – congratulations from friends and colleagues came mixed with puzzlement.
“How wonderful that you’re back in government and as solicitor General” they marvelled. But seconds later confessed that they didn’t even know there was one. “What does it do?”
I know you’ll be more enlighted than the general public and indeed more enlightened than most of my colleagues in parliament and will know that the Solicitor General is the ancient office of deputy to the Attorney General and we are the Government Law Officers.
The Law Officers work falls into three parts
· Legal advice to government – which includes responsibility for the Treasury Solicitors. That advice is – like the advice of in-house lawyers and indeed lawyers in private practice – confidential.
· Then there are the Quasi- judicial responsibilities such as consents to prosecutions, prosecutions for contempt and references to the court of appeal of unduly lenient sentences and
· Thirdly, we superintend the Crown Prosecution Service and the Serious Fraud office.
It’s a fascinating and important range of responsibilities which involve us working with colleagues in every government department.
But it’s our job to be different from other ministers – slightly stepped to one side, more independent, certainly less partisan. And it’s the fate of all law officers to be regarded by lawyers as too political and by politicians as too legal. There’s never any danger of Law Officers becoming too popular.
We carry out the duties of our office in a way which we hope is independent, accountable and fair
And the hope is that with Peter Goldsmith in the Lords and myself in the Commons we aim to have all bases covered.
It’s been a busy year – and much of what we have been working on will I’m sure have affected you too.
As Ministers responsible for the Serious Fraud Office and the Crown Prosecution Service we account to parliament for their work
Last year the Attorney talked about this - particularly in the aftermath of September 11th.
And many of you here will be involved in international work – and you will be aware of the government’s efforts to play our part in the global effort to tackle international crime and terrorism. It is now essential that prosecutors – whether in the SFO, CPS, or Customs, work with their counterparts abroad and through mutual legal assistance they do that. The map of the world on the wall in the Serious Fraud Office is not to help the lawyers choose their holiday destinations – it is symptomatic of the fact that in any one case evidence, witnesses, victims, defendants and the proceeds can be spread across a dozen or more jurisdictions.
Across government, including the HO, FCO, and DFID there is work underway to try to tighten our grip on the money laundering which finances organized crime, drug running, human trafficking – as well as terrorism. - including freezing and seizing the proceeds of crime.
Though the international agenda dominates our thoughts and much of our work – we continue to work on important part of the domestic agenda.
The Crown Prosecution Service – which we superintend – is playing its part in increasing and sustaining public confidence in the criminal justice system – building the partnership with the police and courts while retaining its independence.
And we are also working on that part of the domestic agenda which is not just close to home but inside the home – the problem of domestic violence. It does seem to me extraordinary and unacceptable that in this day and age a quarter of all reported violent crime is men beating their wives or girlfriends. And it does seem to me extraordinary and unacceptable too that in an age when women consider themselves equal and divorce is legal – that there are men killing their wives and then turning up in court saying – but she was planning to leave me and it was only because I loved her.
We will have a Bill in November to strengthen the laws on domestic violence but we need to continue to strive for the change in attitudes that domestic violence is a crime and the man who succeeds as a professional but goes home and beats his wife is not an upstanding member of the community – he is a common criminal.
To take forward the difficult task of prosecuting domestic violence the CPS have set up a specialist team of domestic violence prosecutors and are strengthening their links with the communities in which they work.
And that looking to the local community is, I know, something that the Law Society Commerce and Industry Group takes very seriously too.
I’d like to thank Ann Page for the work she does for the Attorney General’s Pro Bono Committee and finish with a plug for you to respond enthusiastically when you get the new pack “Law works for in-house lawyers”
When I was a young articled clerk I got a great deal out of working one night a week in the Fulham Legal Advice Centre.
Now, as MP for an area which still suffers economic and social deprivation, I see how difficult it is when my constituents – or local community groups - find that they have a tangle of legal problems and they can’t get publicly funded legal services.
Many companies now, I’m glad to say are getting involved in what’s called “corporate social responsibility” – and lawyers have a special opportunity to help.
Pro Bono legal work is invaluable. I hope that your companies will support you as you give some of your high quality legal advice to those who are in dire need.
So please, when Ann sends you the booklet – please fill in the forms and help.
Once again can I wish you well in the year ahead – giving good advice to your companies – keeping them on the straight and narrow.