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Tag Archive | "Bob Neill"

The Lord Chancellor

When appointing a Lord Chancellor what was once rare is now almost routine.

The Coalition government in 2010 appointed Chris Grayling to the post, which is also that of Secretary of State for Justice. He was the first non lawyer to be given the job since the middle ages. It showed.

In the reshuffle following the 2015 election Michael Gove got the job. He also is not legally qualified. He made a promising start, clearing up some of the mess left by Grayling, and promising reforms. He became one of the more sensational casualties of the post referendum chaos as he was cast into the political wilderness.

Now Liz Truss has got the job. Also not legally qualified, she is the first female Lord Chancellor in the thousand-year history of the role. 41 today, she has been MP for South West Norfolk since 2010. Rapid promotion saw her appointment as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State from 2012 to 2014, with responsibility for education and childcare. She became a member of the Cabinet as Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2014. On 14 July 2016 she was appointed Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor by new Prime Minister Theresa May.

According to George Monbiot in the ‘Guardian’, interviewers have said that she is “indissolubly wedded to a set of theories about how the world should be, that are impervious to argument, facts or experience. She was among the first ministers to put her own department on the block in the latest spending review, volunteering massive cuts.”

She set courts reform as one of her top priorities during the traditional swearing-in ceremony. She also stressed she was a great supporter of reform and modernisation through the courts and tribunals system. “That urgent task will be high on my agenda in the months ahead, as I know it is for senior members of the judiciary,” she added.

Her appointment has not met with a uniform welcome. As one disgruntled contributor to the ‘Gazette’ plaintively wrote “Why do the Tories persistently want to pee off the profession by making non lawyers Lord or Lady Chancellors. It is frankly insulting.” More officially, the Tory chair of the Commons justice select committee, Bob Neill, has become the latest senior political figure to question her credentials.

As reported in the ‘Gazette’, he said “My concern is this: while it’s not necessary for the lord chancellor to have a legal background, they have a specific role under the Constitutional Reform Act to represent the interests of the judiciary and to represent the judiciary, including its independence within government.

“It helps if the person in charge has been a lawyer or has been a senior member of the cabinet. I have a concern, with no disrespect to Liz, that it would be hard for someone without that history to step straight in and fulfil that role.”

Neill’s comments follow a claim by former shadow lord chancellor Lord Falconer that prime minister Theresa May broke the law in appointing Truss. Writing in the ‘Times’, Falconer said: “The lord chancellor has to be someone with the weight and stature to stand up to the prime minister or the home secretary when, for instance, they want to compromise on complying with the law in an attempt to placate the public. Or when the politicians are determined to blame the judges when their policies go wrong.”

Lord Faulks said last week that he resigned as Lords justice spokesman over fears that Truss would not have the necessary leverage to challenge the prime minister over crucial issues such as judicial independence.

Posted in Civil Law, Criminal JusticeComments (0)

Criminal courts charge to be scrapped

Lord chancellor Michael Gove inherited many ill-considered policies from his illiberal predecessor Chris Grayling in May. But few were more damaging to the fairness of the justice system than the criminal courts charge. Grayling introduced it, without any public consultation or parliamentary debate, during the last days of the coalition government.

The charges require defendants who plead guilty in the magistrates’ courts to automatically pay £150 for the privilege. Those who fight a more serious case and lose face a bill for £1000 (which rises to £1200 in the crown court). The charge is not means-tested, so ability to pay is ignored when it is imposed; nor do courts have discretion over its imposition.

MPs on the Justice Committee published a report in November in which they said the fee created “serious problems” and was often “grossly disproportionate.” The cross-party group’s chairman, Conservative MP Bob Neill, said the evidence they had received raised “grave misgivings” about the fee’s benefits and whether it was “compatible with the principles of justice.”

He said it created “perverse incentives – not only for defendants to plead guilty but for sentencers to reduce awards of compensation and prosecution costs.”

Meanwhile, the lord chief justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said the charge had “not gone correctly” and should be looked at again.

In a highly critical speech, Lord Thomas drew attention to the impact of the mandatory criminal courts charge and increases in costs for civil claims. “Steep rises in criminal and civil court fees are putting access to justice beyond the reach of most people and “imperilling a core principle of Magna Carta”, the lord chief justice said.

The Magistrates Association (MA) confirmed that more than 50 of its members had already quit since April over the issue. MA chairman Richard Monkhouse added: “We’re seeing some valued experienced magistrates resigning over the charge, which is a great shame and we believe we’ll see more go.

Gove has clearly had enough, and today he announced to parliament that the criminal courts charge for convicted defendants is to be scrapped from 24 December.

He said that the Ministry of Justice will review the entire structure of court-ordered financial impositions for offenders.

Since his appointment Gove has tried to repair the government’s relationship with the legal profession and has ditched many of Grayling’s most controversial policies. These include restrictions on prisoners receiving books, plans to spend £85m on a mega-prison in Leicestershire for young offenders, and selling British prison expertise to regimes with appalling human rights records. New contracts for criminal solicitors in England and Wales were expected to come into effect early next year but are now mired in complex legal challenge.

Grayling always proclaimed that there was no crisis in the prison system. Gove does not agree and has shown that his penal thinking inhabits a completely different world.

And so the unravelling of Grayling’s legal legacy continues apace.

Posted in Criminal JusticeComments (0)

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