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Ministry rejig sees former Tory attack dog take the helm, while experienced lawyers also get chance to shine
The cabinet reshuffle sees a change of guard at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). In the short term the new team will be driven by programmes already in motion.
At the top of the tree,Ken Clarke is replaced as justice secretary and Lord Chancellor by Christopher Grayling. This was one for the right of the Tory party. Clarke had been criticised by many for his pinko views of crime and particularly the role of prison. Grayling is a Eurosceptic and was known, while Labour was in power, as a Tory attack dog.
Grayling is the first non-lawyer to be appointed Lord Chancellor, allowable due to changes made under Labour.
Since the last election there have been significant changes in the civil justice field, many instigated by the previous administration. It is unlikely that Grayling and his team will make much difference there. The big changes were brought in by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. We have yet to see secondary legislation in support of the principle established by the statute but the MoJ has set a timetable of April next year for this.
While lawyers applauded the prison reform programme instigated by Clarke there was much criticism of cuts at the MoJ valued at some £350m, the main effect of which has been to cut the court establishment and, more importantly, legal aid.
Undoubtedly, Grayling will continue that programme, perhaps with more gusto. As a non-lawyer he is unlikely to be sympathetic to the profession that he, like all politicians, will say is driven by self-interest.
With a rightward move at the MoJ we are likely to see more conflict between executive and judiciary. This is always a point of friction - democracy demands it. Judges are often pictured by the Tory right as soft on crime and left-leaning. Strangely, the last government thought the same thing.
There is, of course, a change in personnel in the judiciary, with Lord Neuberger becoming the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and John Dyson Master of the Rolls. Both support the Government’s changes to civil justice but in other areas there is bound to be conflict.
In addition to Grayling there are other changes at a more junior level. Jonathan Djanogly is replaced as parliamentary under-secretary at the MoJ. Djanogly is not untouched by scandal. He repaid £25,000 in the great expenses scandal and was subject to inquiry by the cabinet secretary as he was championing changes in civil justice but could have been seen to have profited from them because of a family interest in a claims management company.
Djanogly took responsibility for the civil justice reforms, but some were critical of him for a failure to master the detail.
The profession will undoubtedly welcome the appointment of two former working lawyers to the MoJ team. Helen Grant ran her own family law firm for 20 years and Jeremy Wright was at the criminal bar undertaking both prosecution and defence. He should at least understand the pressures on the criminal bar, particularly at junior level.
So the profession may be a bit nervy about the appointment of Grayling, but it will welcome that of two former working lawyers who will bring that practical experience to the ministry.