The former head of the government’s legal service has accused Downing Street of “contempt for the rule of international law” after it quietly abandoned a key plank of the ministerial code.
In a sharply-worded letter to the Guardian, Paul Jenkins claimed the obligation that ministers must comply with international law had caused “intense irritation” to David Cameron.
Jenkins, who was the government’s most senior legal official from 2006 until he stepped down last year, is the most high-profile legal figure to raise the alarm over a rewrite of the ministerial code published last week.
Until last Thursday, the ministerial code referred to an “overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations and to uphold the administration of justice”. The new version simply refers to a duty to comply with “the law”.
Jenkins wrote: “It is disingenuous of the Cabinet Office to dismiss the changes to the ministerial code as mere tidying up.
“As the government’s most senior legal official I saw at close hand from 2010 onwards the intense irritation these words caused the PM as he sought to avoid complying with our international legal obligations, for example in relation to prisoner voting.
“Whether the new wording alters the legal obligations of ministers or not, there can be no doubt that they will regard the change as bolstering, in a most satisfying way, their contempt for the rule of international law.”
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