Tag Archives: reshuffle

Untitled

I like a good title. And no, I don’t mean the Your Honour or Mr Recorder type titles. Which is a good job because I do not like the idea of taking a comprehension test beyond the age of fifteen. But I digress. 

No, when I mean I like a good title, I mean for a blog. And for this blog about the new Lord Chancellor I kept thinking about a little word play with famous song titles, usually around the word “love”. So titles were considered and rejected; “Gove Will Tear Us Apart” (too gloomy); “All You Need Is Gove” (too Tory cheerleader); “Gove On The Rocks” (unrealistic); and, as a variation on a theme, the Smiths’ classic “Hand in Gove” (just too weird).

Eventually I decided upon “Untitled” because the story of Michael Gove, Lord Chancellor, is a story too new to be pigeon holed by some semi-illiterate pun. And that is the beauty of the situation. 

I have read and heard much in the way of speculation. Much of it from people who I respect, much of it from people who have some form of inside knowledge. 

One school of thought says that we should judge Gove by what happened in Education. He was deeply unpopular with the troops on the ground in that field and we should expect him to be a similar thorn in our side. He imposed his will on the education system despite warnings from those with greater experience and we face the same. 

Another school of thought says that this is a period of rehabilitation for Gove, bruised after losing the Education job. That he will want this to be a success by first avoiding a repeat of the animosity and resentment that saw him out of office. He will not want a war. 

Others look at his predecessor. It is said that Grayling had suffered too many reverses in the High Court and Cameron needed someone more assured to bring home the final phase of the cuts to Legal Aid. Gove is a close ally of Cameron and can be trusted to finish the job. It is not exactly as if Leader of the Commons is viewed as a plum role as reward for a job well done by Grayling. 

Meanwhile some say that, in Grayling, Cameron had a zealot to the cause. A man driven by the pursuit of budgetary savings and committed to seeing it through. If there was still the desire to see further cuts, then Grayling would have remained. If a gentle retreat is called for, then it is much easier for a fresh pair of eyes to see the need for a different approach. 

There is a compelling logic in much of what is said. Somebody, somewhere will be proved right. But at this moment in time it is still a story unwritten. The facts are still to unfold. 

So what do we know? We know that a party was thrown on the streets outside the MoJ to bid farewell to Grayling. And now he is gone. Just let that sink in – Grayling is no longer the author of our futures. There was a time when we would rather have Rasputin in Petty France than Grayling. 

We have a new ear to listen to our arguments. We have to make our case that the second cut need not be made. That Two-Tier is therefore not required. That we can offer further efficiency savings. That the CJS is in need of resuscitation, not starvation. 

These arguments must be first and be strong. They should be delivered with all the persuasion that is the hallmark of the best of the two professions. And they should be made by our representatives with the unity of us all adding momentum to their efforts. 

Finally they should be made with the nature and strength of our other course plain for all to see. We do not threaten but we make it clear – talk and negotiation is not the last resort. 

This is not weakness, this allows us to demonstrate the strength of our case. This is not appeasement, it is the appropriate seizing of an opportunity we have hoped for. 

We will get an early indication of our prospects of success. The new Lord Chancellor needs to pause the tender process in order to allow the room for negotiations to take place. If the process is pursued notwithstanding the obvious logic in at least pausing it then we will know. We will know little has changed. 

Let us hope that Gove Changes Everything. *sorry*

Rights and Wrongs

The night of the long knives has arrived. The Prime Minister sits alone in his office. Before the night is over the walls will be coated with the blood of many a politician. The BBC correspondent, Nick Robinson, has just Tweeted that the Lord Chancellor is on his way to see the PM. That meeting never actually happened. This is the imagined conversation if the meeting had taken place.

LC: Prime Minister, before you make any decisions that I come to regret can I just say that it’s not all my fault. I mean we never expected that the barristers could get organised but it’s all sorted now. There was a problem, now problem gone. And we still have the solicitors on the ropes. And the prisons, well we embarked upon a benchmarking process and we set the benchmark too low for the number of officers compared to our high benchmark of the number of celebrities, I mean, offenders we lock up…..

The PM raises his hand to silence the gabbling Minister

PM: I haven’t asked you here to sack you. I need some advice about legal stuff.

LC: The law?!? Me? Are you sure….

PM: Well not the law as such.

LC: Because if you want law, we should get Dominic in.

PM: That might prove a little……awkward. What I need to know from you is what law stuff we need to make it look like we are dealing with in order to win the election outright. I can’t face another five years of Nick Clegg and all that “ooooh I’ve got a conscience” nonsense.

LC: I have always said that public confidence in the Legal Aid system has been undermined.

PM: Do we still have a Legal Aid system?

LC: Sort of. Not much of a one, but it is still there.

PM: So how do we know that the public are bothered about the Legal Aid system?

LC: Because I just said so.

PM: I know you did. But how do you know?

LC: I don’t. Not really. But it always sounded good. So I say it a lot. It works for everything. You should try it; ‘the public’s confidence has been undermined in prison sentences so I am going to triple them’ or ‘public confidence has been undermined in the probation service so I am going to sell it’. It works in any situation.

PM: But I need something that the public are really bothered about.

LC: You could try human rights and the supremacy of the European court?

PM: Why do the public worry about the supremacy of the European court?

LC: Because we keep telling them there is a problem. Every time we get caught out…. I mean every time those foreign Judges try to tell us how to run our country by applying a bunch of alien standards that we drafted in the first place, we just explain that they are wrong and pop a Minister on TV to whine about us being steamrollered by Brussels.

PM: Do we know that is something the public actually worry about?

LC: Oh yes.

PM: Can I just check how we know this?

LC: Because UKIP tell us the public are worried about it. And if UKIP raise it, we have to address it. It is all about capturing the heartland of grassroots in the public imagination.

PM: And is there a problem?

LC: Not really no, but it gives us a good excuse when we lose. Which we don’t do very often. In fact the European courts interfere with the actions of our Government only a fraction of the time that they do with the rest of the signatories to the Convention. We are one of the good guys. But I am not going to sit idly by and have some Eurocrat tell me how bent my banana can be!

PM: So we have told the public there is a real problem about sovereignty when there isn’t really and UKIP now tell us that the public are really concerned about this when they really probably aren’t and the upshot of all this is your banana is too straight, have I got that right?

LC: Yes. Kind of. The bit about the banana is made up but the rest is spot on.

PM: Right, well we need to do something about this wretched court then. Something tough. We need to tell them we won’t stand for this any more. Like I told them about that Juncker fellow. That made ’em listen.

LC: Just one problem. Dominic has advised us in the past that not only is it very difficult for us to pull out of the European court, he also advises us it would be a bad idea.

PM: Just who does he think he is?

LC: Strictly speaking he is the senior adviser to the Government on all things legal.

PM: No, you mean he was the senior adviser to the Government on all things legal. As of about ten minutes before you walked in the door I got all “Lord Sugar” on him and fired “me learned friend”.

LC: I have a cunning plan.

PM: Ho ho, I loved that show….

LC: Show? What show?

PM: You were just doing a bit of Baldrick there weren’t you?

LC: No. I have no idea what you are on about. What I was saying was I have a plan more cunning than a box of frogs with a combined IQ of over 200 and a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

PM: Are you sure you are not quoting Baldrick?

LC: NO! This is a chance to really show we are all in it together. I have been saying all along that we will provide an adequate lawyer of basic competence when the public pays.

PM: And….

LC: We can show that you are no different. At £161,000 we have one of the most expensive Attorney-Generals in the world. And after this reshuffle we will show we are still the most generous with whom we hand it out to. So as long as the new Attorney-General is an adequate lawyer there may be some benefits to you.

PM: Such as?

LC: Well when it comes to those tricky bits of legal advice your adequate Attorney-General may be a bit more inclined to give you the right sort of advice rather than the advice to do the right thing.

PM: I get it. So when we hand out the Lord Chancellor’s gig to you I was giving it to an attack dog….

LC: …..Thank you Prime Minister….

PM: …..and in order to get tough over Europe I now need a lapdog…..

LC: Yes, Prime Minister.

Position Vacant – No Experience Required

I will declare this personal interest – many moons ago, when we were both undergraduates, I was kind of friends with Robert Buckland MP. I believe him to be an able and decent man. He is also an all round nice fellow. Nice enough that, when I contacted him through the mist of years to discuss Legal Aid, he was prepared to listen and engage.

This is not just a bit of lame name dropping by me, it is so you know that background when I excuse him from the criticism that I level here. He has been appointed Solicitor-General and I do not see anything wrong with that appointment. He is an able deputy to the Attorney-General, being called in 1991, practising until 2010 and being appointed a Recorder in 2009. What is remarkable is that he is the deputy to Jeremy Wright. The new Attorney-General was called in 1996 and was elected to parliament in 2005. From that point on his entries in the members’ register of interests reveals he has not practised. So the deputy has nearly twenty years post-qualification experience, the head guy has no more than eight.

The criticism of this appointment is clearly voiced in Matthew Scott’s blog and I invite you to read his piece where he describes Jeremy Wright as “the least distinguished Attorney-General in two hundred years”. I am not going to repeat all the points that Matthew eloquently makes.

What I would observe is that this is not a position forced upon the Prime Minister. It is not due to a lack of adequate candidates that we now have a non-lawyer as Lord Chancellor and a non-silk, 8-year-PQE-lawyer as Attorney-General. One could point out, for example, that the Solicitor-General is more qualified for the job than the Attorney-General. It is also not a constitutional requirement that these offices should be filled by MPs. They are principally legal appointments which are now being filled by politicians. The PM had the choice of a field of able and experienced lawyers that could be appointed to the job. He could have limited himself to ones that share his political views and still had dozens and dozens of Silks who could undertake this job. Instead we have a politician in the most senior non-judicial law job in the land.

What does that matter? Everything. It sets the tone. He is notionally the Leader of the Bar (and the Bar Council should act immediately to end that tradition after this appointment). He advises the Government on the law (would they usually go to someone with 8 years experience to advise on whether we go to war?). He appoints the head of the Crown Prosecution Service (a job that an 8 year post call advocate would not even get an interview, if he applied). All of this is now being dealt with by an appointee who is first and foremost a politician.

I venture to suggest no Prime Minister has ever lost a General Election because of his choice of Lord Chancellor and Attorney-General. The Prime Minister could have appointed able, talented, experienced lawyers to these posts. But that would not be politically expedient. This part of the Cabinet deck of cards riffle shuffle makes it more likely that the Government can act in a way which they hope will win them votes but will mean that this nation will lose the Rule of Law. And that leaves me terrified.