Last updated:2023-09-18
New faces at the Ministry of Justice
It has been a rather eventful summer break. Since Legal Action was last published, the country has acquired a new prime minister, Theresa May, who has appointed a new cabinet and ministers, including a new team at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the cabinet reshuffle was Boris Johnson’s elevation to foreign secretary. This was quite a turnaround in political fortunes. In the space of a few weeks, Johnson went from a knifing in the back by his fellow Brexit supporter Michael Gove, forcing him out of the Conservative leadership contest, to apparently being left in charge of the country while the PM took a walking holiday in Switzerland.
Gove paid the price for his disloyalty and was summarily dumped from his role as justice secretary, to be replaced by Liz Truss (pictured). Truss was previously Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She is the third non-lawyer and first woman to occupy the dual role of Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor.
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Lord Faulks QC, who was the Minister of State at the MoJ, was publicly critical of her appointment, telling The Times that while he had nothing against Truss personally, he was not convinced she was ‘going to have the clout to be able to stand up to the prime minister when necessary’ to argue ‘for the rule of law and for the judiciary … without fear of damaging her career’. It is difficult not to conclude that Faulks’s intervention was perhaps motivated by sexism rather than principle, for his argument is rather undermined by the fact that he served under two non-lawyer Lord Chancellors and said nothing about his constitutional concerns then.
The record of Gove supports the view that a non-lawyer can perform the role of Lord Chancellor provided he or she has the intellectual calibre and independence of mind to take the right decisions. His move to scrap a deal worth £5.9m with Saudi Arabia to provide training for prison officers stands out as an example of withstanding pressure from number 10 in order to make the right call. In contrast, Chris Grayling made a series of policy blunders that his successor had to unpick. It is to be hoped that Truss will be more like Gove than Grayling in her stewardship of the MoJ.
Sir Oliver Heald QC (pictured) has been appointed as the Minister of State, replacing Faulks as the second ranking minister at the MoJ. Among his responsibilities is legal aid. Heald’s promotion, along with that of Lord Keen QC (to MoJ spokesperson for the Lords), gives some heavyweight legal experience to the new ministerial team.
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In the early days of his career, Heald worked at the Free Representation Unit, a London-based charity that provides pro bono help from barristers. ‘We hope that Heald’s experience at the sharp end of access policy will be of use in persuading his new boss to look again at civil legal aid,’ said LAG director, Steve Hynes. ‘It is our understanding, based on a number of sources, that Gove was contemplating this.’ Hynes argued: ‘It’s time for the government to have a re-think of what the scope and priorities of the system should be. The post-legislative review of LASPO, which is now due, would be an opportunity to do this.’
The MPs Sam Gyimah and Dr Phillip Lee have also been appointed. They complete a new team of five ministers at the MoJ.