Strange bedfellows

Strange bedfellows

Lord McNally, the veteran justice minister who shepherded the government’s legal aid reforms through the House of Lords, has been replaced by Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes as justice minister.

In a surprise move the prime minister announced that Simon Hughes had been appointed minister of state at the Ministry of Justice following the resignation from government of Lord McNally on his appointment as chair of the Youth Justice Board.

Simon Hughes is the deputy leader of the Lib Dems, and will have responsibility for family justice, mediation, freedom of information and data protection. So far he has resisted what must have been several offers of ministerial office during the three and a half years of coalition. He said: “I look forward to working in the MoJ and to contributing energetically to progressive and successful decisions and policies for the fairer and safer society which every Liberal Democrat wants to achieve.”

Whether his new boss, Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling, is as sanguine about the appointment is another matter. Grayling was reported as being ‘taken aback’ by the appointment, from which it is fair to assume that he was not consulted.

This interesting appointment could lead to many clashes, with the pair failing to see eye to eye on a number of key issues. Hughes has been an outspoken critic of Grayling’s legal aid cuts. In June this year he condemned plans to deny criminal defendants the right to choose a solicitor. “In my view access to a lawyer/supplier of choice or preference is a fundamental right and it should not be removed by administrative means,” he said in his submission to the MoJ’s Transforming Legal Aid consultation.

Nicola Hill, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association, said the body was ‘encouraged’ by the appointment. “It’s not too late for the government to rethink their devastating plans for legal aid” she said.

Hughes also voted against the government on the use of ‘secret courts’ closed material proceedings. On human rights he has said: “Cameron should not imply that we could give up being party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which is as much a product of British law as any other. Human rights are vital for all of us, not just for the prisoner and defendant, but for the parent, the child and the business person.”

He is also an advocate of liberalisaton of drugs laws, saying that addicts should be treated rather than punished.

He has one advantage over the Lord Chancellor in that he is a lawyer, being called to the bar in Inner Temple in 1974. He served as Lib Dem shadow to the attorney general from 2005 to 2007.

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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