The appointments of Jack Straw as secretary of state for justice and Baroness Scotland QC as attorney general by Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been broadly welcomed by the legal profession.
Geoffrey Vos QC, the chair of the Bar Council, believes that Straw will be able to resolve the “important outstanding issues” arising from the creation of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) due to his experience in home affairs and his background as a lawyer.
Straw has become the new lord chancellor at a time of flux for the MoJ, as the judiciary continues to negotiate with the Government over its ring-fencing from other areas managed by the ministry to ensure its independence.
As Straw settles into his new position he also has to contend with the legal profession’s concern that the pressure to fund prisons could adversely affect the legal aid budget.
Richard Miller, director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG), said he believes Straw, having a reputation as a thoughtful politician who is willing to listen to constructive criticism, would be more sympathetic to the needs of legal aid lawyers.
“In particular I’m sure he will not stand for other departments creating new demands on his legal aid budget, which has been a constant problem for years,” said Miller.
On Baroness Scotland’s appointment, Vos said it is “excellent” that the bar will be providing the first black woman to attend Cabinet.
“This is a great step forward for the bar’s important diversity and access agenda, which we hope she will actively support in her new role,” said Vos.
The Bar Council will be making “early attempts to discuss the outstanding points” on the Legal Services Bill with the new ministers, believing there is room for a compromise solution on the issues of complaints delegation, independence and the threshold for intervention.