Prime minister David Cameron has confirmed that Chris Grayling will move from his post at the Department for Work and Pensions to become justice secretary.
Kenneth Clarke earlier became the highest-profile casualty of David Cameron’s first major reshuffle since coming to power. The 72-year-old, who has held seven different cabinet positions since first becoming health minister in 1982, will be moved to minister without portfolio advising on economic issues.
Grayling (pictured), 50, a former BBC News producer, will be viewed as a surprise appointment by some, with no background in law.
His appointment is likely to be viewed as an attempt by Cameron to win favour with the right of his party. Grayling, MP for Epson and Ewell, delighted the party in opposition with his attacks on Labour ministers but has kept a lower profile since the 2010 general election, having upset gay rights campaigners when he seemed to suggest that bed and breakfast owners could turn away a gay couple.
Clarke’s two years at the Ministry of Justice have been dominated by the requirement to cut £2bn from its £9bn annual budget. As part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, which largely comes into force from next April, legal aid was cut for most civil cases to save £350m a year.
Clarke defended the cuts, arguing that spending on legal aid was higher in England and Wales than anywhere else in the world. The Jackson reforms to civil litigation, following the report launched by Clarke’s predecessor Jack Straw, were also a key element of the past two years.
From next April, referral fees will be banned for all personal injury cases, whilst the reforms will also remove the recoverability of success fees and after-the-event insurance from losing defendants.
But Clarke’s attempts to reduce expenditure on prisons will be for many the abiding memory of his time in government. A proposal to reduce sentences by up to 50% for an early guilty plea upset many on the right of the Conservative party, and the controversy was compounded when Clarke was forced to clarify comments made in an interview which appeared to suggest that some rapes were less serious than others.
In what was seen as a defeat for the justice secretary, Cameron later stated that cutting sentences by half would be ‘too lenient’. While Clarke’s critics accused him of too soft on crime, prison population has remained high throughout his tenure, with last week’s total of 86,708 just two fewer than the same time last year.
Other reforms during Clarke’s period in office included making squatting a criminal offence, reform of community sentences and launching an overhaul of the family justice system. He also oversaw the implementation of the Legal Services Act, which allowed non-lawyers or private equity investors a stake in law firms.
The reshuffle and the business of law
Tuesday 04 September 2012 by Eduardo Reyes
Under the coalition government, the Ministry of Justice has been marked by a phenomenally loose grasp of detail at the top. When it comes to the business of running a legal practice, this, more than the left-right positioning of ministers, has been a problem. In areas such as the implementation of the Jackson reforms, that has exasperated supporters of the ministry’s policies as much as its opponents.
In the top three ministers – Clarke, McNally and Djanogly – the MoJ has had what might politely be termed broad-brush people in a rush. That their time in office has coincided with a monumental pocket-money shortage has compounded the problem.
So for insurer-lobby lawyers, supportive of Jackson’s proposed reforms, the MoJ is proving a flakey agent of change – among other errors, set to muddle an increase of the small-claims track limit with extension of the RTA claims portal. On legal aid, all proposals for ways of cutting that would have mitigated the impact on access to justice were placed in the ‘too-difficult’ box.
The increased costs arising from a dramatic increase in litigants-in-person were never calculated. And while pro bono advice might take up some of the slack, ministers have not looked at what might help that happen. Legal advice centres and citizens advice bureaux continue, but with diminished resources and swamped with demand for their services. And cuts to numbers in the government legal service, department by department, led off with the sort of voluntary redundancy programme that provides an active financial incentive for the most able and experienced professionals to walk.
Meanwhile changes to employment law and red-faced outrage at the European Court of Human Rights have tilted at windmills the size of crazy-golf course replicas.
Incredibly, such is the devil-may-care slackness in justice policy that sensible lawyers with no political axe to grind mutter in private about ‘malfeasance in public office’ (maximum sentence for willfully wasting public funds, a 25-year stretch) and breaches of the civil service code.
So for everyone in the legal sector – be they insurer lawyers, legal centre volunteers, City litigators, public law specialists, law students, general counsel, government lawyers, company law specialists, private practice advisers to central and local government – the interest in whether the MoJ tacks right or left politically should be a secondary consideration.
To serve their clients’ interests, and build their own viable businesses, practices and departments, the legal community mostly needs ministers who have a grip on their own policies. In the last two years, they’ve not had that.
Esther McVey has been appointed as under Secretary of State in the Department of Works of Pensions. Brilliant - I am an admirer of Esther for her no-nonsense, plain speaking approach. If I am not mistaken she takes over from Maria Miller who was responsible for implimenting the changes to the CSA.