Tag Archive | "Liz Truss"

New Lord Chancellor


In the past two years we have been privileged to serve four holders of the post of Lord Chancellor – Chris Grayling, Michael Gove, Lyn Truss and now, David Lidington.

All four have one thing in common. None is legally qualified.

The demotion of Lyn Truss to Chief Secretary to the Treasury stands out as the only senior casualty in the mini reshuffle following the general election. She has paid the price of the fury caused by her lacklustre defence of a judiciary dubbed ’Enemies of the People’ by the right-wing press over the Article 50 case.

David Lidington was elected Member of Parliament for Aylesbury in 1992 and has held a number of positions including Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 2003 to 2007 and Shadow Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from 2007 to 2010
He served as Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) from May 2010 until July 2016, the longest-serving Europe Minister in British history. He was Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council from July 2016 to June 2017. He was a staunch member of the Remain campaign.

Lidington has generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights. In May last year he voted in favour of repealing the Human Rights Act 1998. He has also consistently voted against allowing terminally ill people to be given assistance to end their life. He has generally voted against gay rights and voted against allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Lidington has also consistently voted in favour of restricting the scope of legal aid, and for allowing national security-sensitive evidence to be put before courts in secret sessions.

His voting record also shows support for stronger enforcement of immigration rules and mass surveillance of people’s communications and activities.

Commenting on Sunday Lidington said: “Democracy and freedom are built on the rule of law, and are protected by a strong and independent judiciary. I look forward to taking my Oath as Lord Chancellor, and to working with the Lord Chief Justice and his fellow judges in the months ahead, to ensure that justice is fairly administered and robustly defended.”

In May 2009, the Daily Telegraph revealed Lidington had claimed nearly £1,300 for his dry cleaning and had also claimed for toothpaste, shower gel, body spray and vitamin supplements on his second home allowance. He decided to repay the claims for the toiletries, saying: “I accept that many people would see them as over-generous.” He was also criticised by local newspaper the Bucks Herald for claiming £115,891 in expenses in one year, almost double his salary.

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Election manifestoes


Where there is an election there are manifestoes, and both the Law Society and the Bar Council have been quick off the mark.

The Law Society has called on the next government to put access to justice at the heart of Brexit Britain. Society president Robert Bourns said: “Early legal advice prevents difficult societal and personal situations escalating. So if you’ve a problem with housing, how immeasurably better it is to solve that before you and your family become homeless – which is also likely to cost the taxpayer far more than the initial legal advice.”

On human rights, the Society wants to retain the Human Rights Act, but says that if it is replaced by a British Bill of Rights this must protect and enhance rights currently enshrined in UK law.

Regarding Brexit, the Society calls for negotiation of reciprocal rights of practice, audience and legal professional privilege for UK solicitors across the EU and in its courts. The Law Society’s calls include:

  • Reinstate legal aid for early advice, particularly in housing and family law.
  • Negotiate access for UK lawyers to practice law across the EU, base themselves in the EU, and have rights of audience and legal professional privilege in EU courts.
  • Ensure civil justice co-operation is maintained with the EU in the interest of consumers, families and businesses.
  • Combat modern slavery by enforcing the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and allocating the necessary resources to protect victims.
  • Scrap the current employment tribunal fee system.

Echoing the Law Society’s manifesto, the Bar Council says the government must review the consequences of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, which greatly cut back the scope of legal aid. “The loss of nearly £1bn legal aid support has effectively disenfranchised a whole sector of society from obtaining access to justice. Government should reintroduce legal aid to assist vulnerable citizens who are currently left to fend for themselves…Justice is not a commodity and should never be a luxury available only to those who can afford to pay for it. Justice is not like any other public service.”

In a thinly veiled attack on Liz Truss, the Council stresses that the next lord chancellor must be someone whose “experience is combined with the requisite authority among ministerial colleagues to defend the independence of the judiciary.”

On Brexit, the Bar manifesto warns that: “Unless a strategic plan for the future of our legal services is devised and delivered, our exit from the EU will damage the international market value of the legal services sector, and undermine acquired rights and protections for our citizens and for our environment.” In exiting the EU, the government must develop a strategy for the legal services sector which recognises the value that Britain’s legal services contributes.

The Bar Council calls on the government to provide appropriate funding which recognises the value of the judiciary and those who work for the administration of justice so that standards of excellence can be achieved; and invest in infrastructure by making proper investment in the infrastructure of justice.

In addition, the government must remedy poor decision-making by those in authority who deal with vulnerable members of society. “For example, approximately half of those detained in immigration detention centres ought not to be there as is demonstrated by charities which provide legal assistance to those who cannot use lawyers.”

The Bar Council’s manifesto ‘The Value of Justice’ can be found at: http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/media/566731/manifesto_for_justicefinal.pdf

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So who is next?


No tears were shed when, following the 2015 election, Chris Grayling was removed from the role of lord chancellor. There were nevertheless raised eyebrows when his successor was announced – Michael Gove, another unqualified incumbent.

But many fears were allayed when he set about righting the mean-minded Grayling rulings, such as the severe restriction of reading material in prisons. He also promised a review of ongoing criminal legal aid reforms and said there were no plans for further cuts on top of those already announced.

Speaking of the “dangerous inequality at the heart of our system” he said: “There are two nations in our justice system at present. On the one hand, the wealthy, international class who can, for example, choose to settle cases in London with the gold standard of British justice. And then everyone else, who has to put up with a creaking, outdated system to see justice done in their own lives.” He also grasped the nettle of prison overcrowding with far reaching proposals for ‘new prisons for old.’

On civil justice he said: “The current system adds to stress at times of need, and restricts access to high quality resolution of disputes by simply being too complex, too bureaucratic and too slow.”

Then came the upheaval following the referendum, with the change of prime minister and the ministerial reshuffle which consigned Gove to the wilderness. His replacement, Liz Truss, completed a hat trick of non legally qualified lord chancellors.

She set out her views on sentencing and the prison population in an address to the Centre for Social Justice. She said that the problems boil down to four distinct areas: sentences are too long; prisons are too overcrowded to work; the wrong people are in prison; and the management of the prison population at the moment isn’t good enough.

She identified the biggest driver for prison growth in the last twenty years as the exposure, pursuit and punishment of sexual offences and crimes of violence, and a toughening up of sentences for these crimes.

In family courts “I will end the appalling practice of domestic abuse victims being cross-examined by their attacker” she said. She herself took flak from the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who launched a forthright attack for her failure last year to defend judges who were branded “enemies of the people.”

Introducing the Prisons and Courts bill, she said: “I want our prisons to be places of discipline, hard work, and self-improvement, where staff are empowered to get people off drugs, improve their English and maths to get a job on release,” she said.

The bill hopes to pave the way for the biggest overhaul of prisons in a generation and the delivery of a first class court system. Protection of victims and vulnerable witnesses in the courts, along with a commitment to reform offenders in prison, are laid out in law for the first time. The bill will provide a better working environment for judges, with modern court facilities and better IT that will help manage cases more efficiently.

Across the country more than 2,000 new senior positions are being created for experienced prison officers on promotion. She concluded: “The answer to overcrowding is not to cut prisoner numbers in half. It is to make sure we have the right resources, the right workforce, the right buildings and the right regimes to reform offenders and turn their lives around (then) we will see our society become safer and our prison population will reduce.”

Now we have another hiatus caused by the election. How many of the enlightened proposals will survive? I will leave the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, to spell out the number of extra police officers required and the cost thereof.

Photo courtesy of mrgarethm on flickr

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Lord Chief Justice attacks the Lord Chancellor


Giving evidence to the House of Lords’ Constitution Committee this week, the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, launched a forthright attack on the justice secretary, Liz Truss, for her failure last year to defend judges who were branded “enemies of the people.”

Referring to the article 50 Brexit court case, he told the select committee Truss was “completely and utterly wrong” to say she could not criticise the media.

Last November, the ‘Daily Mail’ ran the headline “Enemies of the people” when the high court, on which Thomas was sitting, found against the government, forcing ministers to obtain parliamentary backing before triggering Brexit.

The lord chief justice told peers: “The circuit judges were very concerned. They wrote to the lord chancellor because litigants in person were coming and saying ‘you’re an enemy of the people…I don’t think it is understood either how absolutely essential it is that we [the judges] are protected because we have to act as our oath requires us without fear or favour.”

Referring to Gina Miller, the lead claimant in the Article 50 case, he went on to say:“It is the only time in the whole of my judicial career that I have had to ask for the police to give us a measure of advice and protection in relation to the emotions that were being stirred up.”

Lord Thomas’s intervention came after Truss told the Financial Times that judges should boost their image because they would come under greater scrutiny post-Brexit. She urged judges to “speak out about the important work they do to ensure that it is widely understood”.

Due to step down in the autumn after four years in office, Lord Thomas said he had intended to wait until a lecture he was planning to give in June to make public his opinions on the matter, but felt the need to do so now because of the lord chancellor’s comments and a newspaper interview she gave.

Pulling no punches he said: “I regret to have to criticise her as severely as I have, but to my mind she was completely and absolutely wrong. And I am very disappointed. I can understand how the pressures were on in November, but she has taken a position that is constitutionally absolutely wrong. It is Truss’s duty, as lord chancellor, to defend the judges.”

Truss said she supported freedom of the press and did not feel it was her role to tell newspapers what they should put on their front pages. She told the same committee earlier this month: “I think it is dangerous for a government minister to say, ‘this is an acceptable headline and this isn’t an acceptable headline,’ because I am a huge believer in the independence of the judiciary. I am also a very strong believer in the free press.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “An independent judiciary is the cornerstone of the rule of law and it is the duty of the Lord Chancellor to defend that independence. The Lord Chancellor takes that duty very seriously. She has been very clear that she supports the independence of the judiciary but that she also believes in a free press, where newspapers are free to publish, within the law, their views.”

Image by FruitMonkeyOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

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Prisons and Courts Bill


“Prison is about punishing people who have committed heinous crimes, but it should be a place where offenders are given the opportunity to turn their lives around,” said the justice secretary, Liz Truss, introducing the Prisons and Courts bill last Thursday.

“I want our prisons to be places of discipline, hard work, and self-improvement, where staff are empowered to get people off drugs, improve their English and maths to get a job on release,” she said.

Under a new framework, the justice secretary will be accountable to parliament for progress in reforming offenders. Meanwhile, governors will take control of budgets for education, employment, and health. The government hopes the measures will drive down the £15bn annual cost of reoffending. This legislation underpins measures in the recently published Prison Safety and Reform White Paper. Read the full story

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Sentencing and the prison population


Justice secretary Liz Truss set out her views on sentencing and the prison population in an address to the Centre for Social Justice last week. She believes that “We should be proud that we live in a society that no longer shames victims of rape; that is prepared to confront child sex abuse, and has brought domestic violence out in the open.”

She said that the problems boil down to four distinct areas: sentences are too long; prisons are too overcrowded to work; the wrong people are in prison; and the management of the prison population at the moment isn’t good enough.

She pointed out that the prison population has remained relatively stable since 2010, at around 85,000 people, and that it is not true that rates of imprisonment have gone up across the board. In 2015 courts handed out 9,000 fewer short-term sentences than they did in 2010.

She identified the biggest driver for prison growth in the last twenty years as the exposure, pursuit and punishment of sexual offences and crimes of violence, and a toughening up of sentences for these crimes. “Since 2000 there has been a 29% increase in those sentenced to custody for robbery and a 75% increase for violence against a person. And there has been a 140% increase in the number of sexual offenders in prison,” she said.

She added: “This has led to a change in the make-up of our prison population – from two in five being prisoners convicted of violent, sexual or drug offences in 1995 to three in five now. There has been a huge difference in the people we send to prison. Compared with 2010, there are now 3,000 more sex offenders in prison.”

She pledged to take action to spare victims of sexual abuse the trauma of giving evidence in open court in criminal cases. In family courts “I will end the appalling practice of domestic abuse victims being cross-examined by their attacker” she said.

“I want to transform our prisons from places of violence and despair to places of self-improvement and hope where all prisoners are given the chance to lead a better life,” she said, “because I believe that everybody is capable of reform.” The Prison and Courts Bill, due to be published this month, will enshrine in law that reforming offenders is a key purpose of prison and that the Secretary of State has responsibility for delivery.

A more systematic, nationally consistent approach is needed to provide quicker and more certain access to mental health treatment for offenders. Early intervention by the courts is vitally important in stopping women offenders from ending up in prison. “We will be announcing our strategy for women later this year and have already announced a new director for women in custody and the community – Sonia Crozier,” she said. “Early intervention is not a ‘nice to have’ added extra to the justice system, it is vital if we are ever to break the cycle of crime, punishment and more crime.”

She acknowledged that: “We also have to deal with the levels of violence and self-harm in our prisons. That is why as well as investing in reform and giving more powers to governors and creating a new frontline agency – Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service – we are putting an extra £100m a year into the frontline and will take on 2,500 more frontline officers.”

So much for former justice secretary Grayling’s mismanagement, subservient to Chancellor Osborne’s austerity programme, conceding dangerous cuts, all the while denying that there was crisis in the prison service. Liz Truss knows different. Since this speech was delivered she has offered substantial – and divisive – pay rises. Never was there such a clear example of the false economies of the austerity programme.

She concluded: “The answer to overcrowding is not to cut prisoner numbers in half. It is to make sure we have the right resources, the right workforce, the right buildings and the right regimes to reform offenders and turn their lives around (then) we will see our society become safer and our prison population will reduce.” Let us hope so.

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The Supreme Court has ruled


Parliament must vote on whether the government can start the Brexit process, the Supreme Court has ruled. The judgement means Theresa May cannot begin talks with the EU until MPs and peers give their backing, although this is expected to happen in time for the government’s 31 March deadline.

Reading out the judgement, Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger said: “By a majority of eight to three, the Supreme Court today rules that the government cannot trigger Article 50 without an act of Parliament authorising it to do so.

“Withdrawal effects a fundamental change by cutting off the source of EU law, as well as changing legal rights. The UK’s constitutional arrangements require such changes to be clearly authorised by Parliament.”

Attorney General Jeremy Wright said the government was “disappointed” but would “comply” and do “all that is necessary” to implement the court’s judgement. The government had argued that, under the Royal Prerogative (powers handed to the government by the Crown), it could make this move without the need to consult Parliament.

The court also rejected, unanimously, arguments that the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly should get to vote on Article 50 before it is triggered.

Key points of the judgement include the fact that the 1972 Act that took the UK into the then EEC creates a process by which EU law becomes a source of UK law, and so long as that act remains in force, it means that EU law is an “independent and overriding source” of the UK’s legal system. Withdrawal from the EU makes a fundamental change to the UK’s constitutional arrangements because it will cut off the source of EU law. The UK constitution requires such changes can only be made by Parliament.

Dominic Casciani, BBC home affairs correspondent, writes: “”This momentous judgement is about one thing alone: the rule of law and how the UK, as a champion of that steady, calm form of government, gets on with the business of leaving the EU.

He added: “But what it also makes clear is that membership of the EU is messy in constitutional terms – so only Parliament has the right to pull us out. It can’t be done by the stroke of a minister’s pen.”

BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg detected “sighs of relief” in Whitehall for two reasons. The verdict from the justices doesn’t take away from the reality that having to go to Parliament before triggering Article 50 is a political inconvenience that Theresa May very much wanted to avoid. But “the justices held back from insisting that the devolved administrations would have a vote or a say on the process. That was, as described by a member of Team May, the ‘nightmare scenario’.”

She said: “Second, the Supreme Court also held back from telling the government explicitly what it has to do next. The judgement is clear that it was not for the courts but for politicians to decide how to proceed next.” Explicit instructions from the court about the kind of legislation they had to introduce would have made ministers’ lives very difficult.

David Davis stated that the government supported the right of the judges to come to their conclusion, after the ‘Daily Mail’ argued: “Yet again, the elite show their contempt for Brexit voters.” There followed a statement from the justice secretary, Liz Truss, who faced criticism for not defending the appeal court justices denounced by sections of the media as “enemies of the people” after they ruled against the government.

Truss said: “Our independent judiciary is the cornerstone of the rule of law and is vital to our constitution and our freedoms. The reputation of our judiciary is unrivalled the world over, and our supreme court justices are people of integrity and impartiality.”

The shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti, argued that it was not enough, and that the prime minister should also speak out.

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Family courts allow abusers to torment their victims


The head of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has called for a bar on victims of domestic violence being cross-examined by the alleged perpetrators in court. The practice is not permitted in criminal courts. He said: “Reform is required. I would welcome a bar. But the judiciary cannot provide this, because it requires primary legislation and would involve public expenditure. It is therefore a matter for ministers.”

Liz Truss, the justice secretary, is said to share his concerns about how the family courts can enable perpetrators of domestic abuse to continue their intimidation and harassment through the court system. A senior Ministry of Justice source said: “This is a matter we are extremely concerned about and looking at as a matter of urgency.”

Comprehensive evidence obtained by the ‘Guardian’ has revealed how the family court allows men with criminal convictions for abusing their ex-partners to directly question them; is able to ignore restraining orders imposed by the criminal courts to protect the women; and allows fathers, no matter how violent or abusive, to repeatedly pursue contact with children and their mothers. The evidence also shows that the family court can ignore expert evidence that women are at risk from abusive men and fails to adequately protect vulnerable victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

Women are often cross-examined by violent ex-partners in secretive civil court hearings. Those who speak out risk being held in contempt of court for discussing what went on in their private court hearings, but said they wanted to shine a light on what was going on in the system.

The immediate problem is another of Chris Grayling’s chickens coming home to roost. To satisfy the austerity demands of George Osborne (remember him?) Grayling took the axe to his department’s budget. Legal aid is now denied in most family cases. The main exception is for a victim of domestic abuse. Cuts of more than 30% are crippling access to all sorts of justice.

The number of people going to court without a lawyer has been rising since access to legal aid was cut severely in 2013. The less well off and those with children are more heavily represented in those litigating in person than any other group.

Research by the charity Citizens Advice has revealed that the stress, responsibility and loneliness of going to court without representation can mean ‘Litigants in person’ (LiPS) achieve worse outcomes compared with their represented counterparts.

It also showed 90% of people who had been LiPS found the experience negatively affected their health, relationships, work or finances. Figures from the MoJ in October 2016 reveal that in 80% of family court cases, at least one individual had no lawyer.

The justice secretary has set up an emergency review to find the quickest way to ban perpetrators of domestic abuse from directly cross-examining their victims within the family court system. The research paper being prepared is due to be completed by the end of next week. It will examine whether primary legislation is necessary to end perpetrator cross-examination, or whether it could be stopped through the provision of more legal aid.

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Personal Injuries proposals


In a move described as ‘heavy handed, excessive, and disastrous’ the Ministry of Justice announced last week that it plans to either scrap the right to compensation or, alternatively, put a cap on the amount people can claim for minor soft-tissue injuries. Capping whiplash compensation would see the average pay-out cut from £1,850 to a maximum amount of £425.

MoJ also said it would raise the limit for cases in the small claims court for all personal injury claims from £1,000 to £5,000. Read the full story

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Imprisonment for public protection


Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons, has produced a report on the 3,859 imprisonment for public protection (IPP) prisoners currently held. He said justice secretary Liz Truss needed to take decisive action to reduce the numbers of those still in prison years after the end of their tariff.

The sentence was introduced in 2005, designed for those who had committed specified ‘serious violent or sexual offences’ and who were deemed to pose a ‘significant risk of serious harm’ in the future. Under the sentence, high-risk individuals would serve a minimum term in prison (their tariff), during which time they would undertake work to reduce the risk they posed. When sufficient risk reduction had been achieved, they would be released by the Parole Board.

The sentence was abolished in 2012. Between 2005 and 2012, a total of 8,711 sentences were issued by the courts. As of September 2016, 3,859 of those prisoners sentenced to an IPP were still in custody, and 87% or 3,200 of these prisoners were beyond their tariff expiry date. Over a third, 42% or 1,398 prisoners, are five or more years over tariff.

Peter Clarke said it was “completely unjust” that offenders serving IPP terms were “languishing in jail”. He warned that these sentences were having a serious effect on prisoners’ mental health. He said “It is widely accepted that implementation of the sentence was flawed and that this has contributed to the large numbers who remain in prison with this sentence, often many years post-tariff.
“Some people with IPP sentences remain dangerous and need to be held in prison to protect the public. Others, however, present much lower levels of risks but system failures have impeded their progress.”

He added that, as the only person “who’s got the authority to get a grip on the way things happen,” the justice secretary needs to act quickly to ensure the consequences of mistakes made in the past do not continue to resonate for many years to come.

Nick Hardwick, Parole Board Chairman, said he very much welcomed the publication of the report. He said: “The Parole Board has recently published its strategic plan to take it to through the next four years to 2020, and one of the 5 over-arching aims is directly focused on the progression of IPP prisoners where it is safe to do so.”

Former lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice Michael Gove was the speaker at this year’s Longford Lecture, delivered last week. His speech highlighted the dire state of UK prisons with instances of violence and unrest in HMP. 200 prisoners rioted at HMP Bedford, and prison officers tried to stage a protest against the unprecedented levels of violence until the High Court declared their actions unlawful.

Gove waded into the subject in strong support of Clarke, saying: “I would recommend using the power of executive clemency for those 500 or so IPP prisoners who have been in jail for far longer than the tariff for their offence and have now – after multiple parole reviews – served even longer than the maximum determinate sentence for that index offence.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the chief inspector’s report rightly highlighted concerns around the management of IPP prisoners. “That is why we have set up a new unit within the ministry of justice to tackle the backlog and are working with the parole board to improve the efficiency of the process.”

The full text of Peter Clarke’s report ‘Unintended consequences: finding a way forward for prisoners serving sentences of imprisonment for public protection’ can be found at

https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wpcontent/uploads/sites/4/2016/11/Unintended-consequences-Web-2016.pdf

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