Farewell Ken Clarke

Farewell Ken Clarke

Ken Clarke has been a big beast in the Westminster jungle for a long time. Now he has gracefully agreed to leave his post as justice secretary and has accepted demotion to minister without portfolio, with the right to advise on economics. Osborne may not be too pleased about that, particularly as Clarke will still be in the cabinet.

Choice of his successor has not been straightforward. Iain Duncan Smith was meant to be the new justice secretary but he dug his heels in to remain in charge of welfare reform at Work and Pensions. It is an open secret that Osborne pressed for his removal from the welfare post because of his opposition to the chancellor’s plans to cut welfare by another £10 billion. But IDS’s popularity in the party gives him the political power to say no to the prime minister.

The post has gone to Chris Grayling, who knows how to please the party right and will take a tougher line on prisons and sentencing. He will be more prepared to stage confrontations with the European court of human rights and the European Union. This will please Tory backbenchers eager to see some edge to national sovereignty, but will dismay the Lib Dems.

He is the first non-lawyer to become Lord Chancellor in modern times. Writing in the ‘Guardian’, Joshua Rozenberg says that an instinctive grasp for all the elements that make up the rule of law may not come easily to a non-lawyer. “Even more difficult for Grayling will be balancing his responsibilities for prisons with his responsibilities for the judges who send people there and for paying enough money to the lawyers whose job it is to ensure that people are not wrongly imprisoned.”

Back in May 2010 the coalition agreement pledged to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government. With Clarke at the helm they would roll back state intrusion and protect historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury and the restoration of rights to non-violent protest. Major provisions included the scrapping of the ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database; the outlawing of finger-printing of children at school without parental permission; and the extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.

A full review of sentencing and rehabilitation policy produced a detailed green paper in which Clarke sought to tear up rules on fixed jail terms for offenders and restore the discretion of judges when sentencing murderers and other serious offenders, only to be sabotaged by the Prime Minister. The ban on filming in law courts was overturned to improve public understanding of the justice system, and the number of courts was drastically reduced. Clarke expressed the hope that the advent of alternative business structures could have as dramatic an impact on legal services as the so-called ‘Big Bang’ of 1986 had on the financial sector. He set up two new consultations on radical proposals to strengthen community sentences and improve the Probation Service. His Defamation bill takes aim at trolls and, in a major reform of the libel laws, will see a duty placed on internet service providers to try to identify internet trolls without victims needing to resort to costly legal action. It will also put an end to cases of so-called libel tourism.

On the other hand his Justice and Security bill proposes using “closed material procedures” to prevent sensitive intelligence being revealed in civil courts for the first time, deemed in many quarters as a corruption of the British legal system which undermines the tradition of open justice. And the major legislation of his term of office, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, has done serious damage to legal aid and the principle of equal access to the law. But then that was a process begun under the last Government.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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