Former lord justice of appeal Sir Alan Moses drew spontaneous applause at last Saturday's Bar Conference with a withering attack on lord chancellor Chris Grayling.

Sir Alan (pictured, centre), now chair of the new Independent Press Standards Organisation, alluded to the threat to the bar posed by having non-lawyers in senior positions at the Ministry of Justice.

Delivering the closing keynote speech, Sir Alan said: 'I hope the public appreciates the need to cherish and cultivate those who seek to provide powerful and independent advocacy.

'This is all the more important today when you are faced with no one in power and authority ready to speak up on your behalf. You have a lord chancellor whose idea of the "rule of law" is to deprive what he describes as "foreigners" of access to the courts, supported by a permanent secretary [Ursula Brennan] who is not a qualified lawyer.

'Was that envisaged in the 2005 [Constitutional Reform] Act [which reformed the role of lord chancellor]?'

Sir Alan was among the judges who in July thwarted the lord chancellor's attempt to restrict the availability of legal aid to people who could show they had lived in Britain for at least a year. The High Court ruled that this amounted to unlawful discrimination.

Sir Alan also took aim at the government over the sackings of law officers Dominic Grieve and Sir Edward Garnier QC, and their replacement with relatively inexperienced barristers.

Both were perceived to have paid the price for their defence of human rights. Sir Alan added: 'Did you believe in all your lifetime you would see the government's two leading lawyers lose their jobs because they gave their genuine opinion?'

Grieve was succeeded by junior barrister Jeremy Wright MP, the first non-QC in living memory to hold the post (he received the rank on his promotion). Robert Buckland MP, a door tenant at 23 Essex Street, became solicitor general in July, replacing Oliver Heald.

Sir Alan conceded that the two 'young men' may prove highly distinguished occupants of the roles, but added: 'They did not manifest their distinction by knocking around the courts or appearing in front of juries. Do you expect them to speak up on your behalf?'

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