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As he sits in his plush offices overlooking Buckingham Palace, Lord Gareth Williams of Mostyn is a happy man. His first ten months as the Britain’s senior lawyer have been, in his view, a success. He has certainly been busy since taking the reins from John Morris last July. He has mooted the idea of public defenders, guided the controversial Mode of Trial Bill through the House of Lords (where he is deputy Leader of the House), asked the Law Commission to look at the prosecution’s right to appeal, and is setting up an independent inspectorate for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). He is also a lucky man. Of the triumvirate of government ministers dealing with the criminal justice system, he seems to be the only one to have a good press. People don’t seem to have a bad word to say about him, which may have something to do with the fact that he reminds you of a cross between a Calvanistic minister and the principal of a charm school. And he’ll need all the charm he can muster as he begins what some are calling his “onslaught on the legal profession”. It started with what sources close to the Lord Chancellor are calling “an unusually keen interest” in the work done by both the (CPS) and the Government Legal Service (GLS), with Williams visiting branches of both every week. And he’s been impressed. “I must admit that I was surprised at the high quality of their performance,” says Williams. “Many of them [the CPS and GLS lawyers] could earn so much more by working in private practice, but are committed to public service. These lawyers do fantastically good work but are very bad at telling the public — whom they serve — what they do.” Their pay also concerns him: “I was alarmed to find out that people who prosecute for the public get paid over 30 percent less than those who defend for the public.” He is determined to “put this right” and warns that now is the time for real scrutiny of the profession. “We have to be rational about how we dispose of public funds. We can’t profligate about things. We want a good legal system that works well, where people are fairly remunerated not over remunerated.” Whether this means that defense lawyers should be paid less is unclear — although it is unlikely that any new money will be available. But the Attorney General is adamant that no more “fat cat lawyer” stories will hit the headlines. Defense lawyers may have further cause for concern as the Law Commission looks at providing the prosecution with a right of appeal against any adverse ruling by a judge. “My concern is simply that there is an imbalance in the system,” says Williams, who has instructed the commission. He admits that any imbalance should not be over-corrected so that the defense lawyers are left at a disadvantage, but is determined that defense lawyers will have to bear any changes bravely. Impressed by the way the CPS operates, he has been persuaded of the merits of adopting a similar salaried defense service in England and Wales. Countering criticisms that this would attract lawyers who may not make the mark in private practice, he says: “Those working in the CPS have [proved that they have] exceptionally high standards, often far better than those in private practice.” He sees no reason why a defense service would be any different. As a frequent visitor to the States, he is very familiar with their public defense system, and has a great admiration for their legal profession, especially its flexibility. This he aims to change, although he would not advocate the adoption of District Attorneys, as he has no confidence in the election of such offices. He is dismissive of the criticism around these proposals: “Lawyers always have knee-jerk reactions to change,” he says. “I was the same. When I was Chairman of the Bar the then Attorney General introduced the right of appeal against unduly lenient sentences, and I was the first to say that civilization would come to an end. It hasn’t.” He is keen to change the whole ethos of the legal profession, starting with a drive to increase pro bono work. “All lawyers, because they have the privilege of doing this job, should put something back — cheerfully and willingly — through pro bono work.” This is a proposal that he, and the solicitors’ and barristers’ pro bono groups, hope will be accepted with good will. “I’ve done pro bono work ever since starting at the Bar,” explains Williams. “I used to do lots of Caribbean death penalty cases with the Privy Council — which is an extraordinary experience. You turn up at Downing Street at 10.30 a.m. to represent someone who has been on death row for 13 years. By lunchtime his appeal has been allowed and he’s a free man. And that’s someone you have never met or spoken with.” He wants all lawyers to gain this breadth of experience and believes that it should be a relevant factor in every selection process. “Obviously not everyone can manage to do pro bono work. If you’re a CPS lawyer in my old turf of Swansea (in Wales), it’s not that easy to do what we’d call “a darker” as a prosecutor on a Friday night. But whatever you can do should count. It will count.” Speaking after the Director of Public Prosecutions’ recent decision not to press charges of manslaughter following the Ladbroke Grove rail disaster, Williams gives a timely reminder that this does not necessarily mean it is the end of the story: “We should all wait to see whether the Health and Safety Executive decide to press charges.” Whatever the specific outcomes of the Ladbroke Grove disaster, Williams is determined that the law around corporate manslaughter will be changed: “The state of the law is deeply unsatisfactory at the moment. We wanted some qualification in the highest relevant court as to whether the law was really as unsatisfactory as everyone said. The answer is yes.” He isn’t as blunt in his approach to double jeopardy, which he described as a very difficult area to be approached with caution. Unlike his political opponents, he is in no mood to jump on a bandwagon and is aware of the shortfalls of rushing knee-jerk legislation through Parliament. “We will consult as widely as possible with civil rights organizations and professional bodies so that we have fair and responsible legislation.” Only then will the law be changed. Away from the law, it is through the music of his idol, Chuck Berry, that he lets his hair down, though he admits that he avoids moving to it. “My wife knocks me for being physically incapable of doing anything gracefully, so I daren’t join in!” It’s the only time the Attorney General will admit to a lack of finesse. He was eight when he decided to go into law. “There must be something wrong with me — I always wanted to be a lawyer!” So what’s his next target? “I’ve never been someone who aspires to anything.”

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