This week, Michael Gove MP, the current Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, was getting around. On 2 December he appeared yesterday before the Lords Constitution Committee and on 3 December he delivered a speech to the Magistrates’ Association and presented a Written Statement to Parliament.
Mr Gove’s approach and style are in notable contrast to his predecessor, Chris Grayling, and he seems much more inclusive of stakeholders and less abrasive. For example, he told the Magistrates that “It’s a great honour – and a heavy responsibility – to be Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor in the country with the best justice system in the world” and he used the speech and the Written Statement to confirm that Mr Grayling’s controversial criminal courts charge (levied on innocent and guilty defendants alike) will be scrapped, from 24 December. It would be dangerous to assume this might mean that the civil court fees imposed by Mr Grayling could be scaled back, particularly as only last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that “The government will also look at changes to court fees as it continues to put the courts on a more sustainable financial footing.”
Significantly, he reaffirmed the importance of investment in technology to deliver savings and efficiencies across all of the Court Service. We need to interpret that as reconfirmation that the £700m investment announced by the Government last week will transform how the courts deal with cases, parties and procedure, including in civil matters. This huge project will surely escalate and gather real momentum in 2016.
As expected, Mr Gove gave an assured performance before the Constitution Committee, as he had done on his first appearance before the Justice Select Committee back in July. He confirmed that he expects to consult in the New Year on reforming the Human Rights Act 1988 – an important manifesto commitment. Thankfully, in all of this the Lord Chancellor seems to have resisted the temptation to quote from his fictional predecessor in Iolanthe: “The law is the true embodiment of everything that’s excellent. It has no kind of fault or flaw, and I, my lords, embody the law.”
About the Author
Alistair Kinley is BLM’s Director of Policy & Government Affairs.
Alistair is responsible for BLM’s engagement with government departments and regulators on policy and public affairs issues and consultations affecting the firm and its customers. He coordinated BLM’s market-facing activities in connection with the Insurance Act 2015 and the consultations which preceded its publication and introduction in Parliament.
He is a member of the Civil Justice Council (CJC), a regular speaker and experienced commentator on legal and procedural reforms and was a contributing editor to the Law Society’s Litigation Funding Handbook (September 2014).