Nobody can be more delighted than me that Michael Gove has been made Secretary of State for Justice and that the gothic horror of Grayling has been finally exorcised from the department. I am not suggesting that the legal profession should be dancing in the streets; for the time being lets just concentrate on Grayling’s grave.
The spin is that Gove is to oversee the abolition of the Human Rights Act and replace it with some sort of British confection. To be honest it’s all smoke and mirrors. The new British Act won’t be much different from the old one but at least we can claim it as our own. The real problem is how not to bugger it all up by pulling out of the European Convention which is not as easy as it seems. My advice? Long grass and have a drink with Dominic Grieve. He will tell you how to fudge it. Let’s get the referendum out of the way first.
The reason Gove is there is because sorting out the MOJ is one of the biggest and most dangerous jobs in government. Grayling left a toxic wasteland where civil servants roam the smoking rubble bayoneting the wounded. Officials control their ministers with policies that are destroying our system of justice. They have to be reined in or sacked. Gove is a master of this. Political control of policies must be restored.
His first day brief will be jaw dropping. He will discover that the legal aid budget has not been spiralling out of the control but was reducing well before the Grayling cuts. He will realise that the brief that the whips had to swallow that we the most expensive legal aid system in Europe is a lie. We come twelfth out of fourteen. He will read reports from HM Inspectors of prisons that incarceration in Britain is dangerous and unsafe with a record level of self harm and suicides. He will see that those contracted to run our system are inefficient , corrupt and fraudulent who have been ripping the taxpayer off for years. He will see a gradual attempt to silence the judiciary. And he will be horrified that the independent bar where most of our judges are drawn is not just on its knees but faces extinction. Michael Gove is a decent man. He will be angry, he will wonder how any Conservative Secretary of State could let this happen on his watch. Worse, encourage it to happen. Grayling was the Dementor who sucked humanity and hope from our prisons. The most despicable trait about him is that he regarded it as a badge of honour when every senior judge or barrister warned him of the havoc he was wreaking.His problem was not having a legal qualification but not having a heart. When a backbencher warned him that his reforms would put our legal system into the hands of the likes of the Co-op he leered that ‘they have very good funeral services’. That is the measure of the man.
Michael, you will not be short of advice but here is some. Build bridges, listen, consult. Find out from those who really care about our justice system how it can be repaired. We will help you with efficiencies. We will help you breathe life into a creaking system which is on the verge of collapse. We are not your enemies; just battered, bruised and confused how a Conservative government could dismantle the most revered system of justice in the world.
And it is not too late. You can turn this around. Even officials at your department recommended to Grayling that there be a moratorium on rolling out the destructive system of two tier contracting for solicitors which will wipe out three quarters of High Street firms, eradicate the independent bar and place legal advice into the hands of those who don’t give a damn about quality just profit. All I ask is put this on hold before it is too late. Then make up your mind on the evidence. You may not be legally qualified but you do have a heart and a soul. Let this be an early priority.
And to my colleagues I say give Gove a chance. Let him consult, let him listen. But if he is sucked into the seventh circle of hell by a cabal of dangerous officials and ignores us let loose the dogs of war. This is a battle for survival.
I trust Michael Gove. I believe that he can deliver. I hope to God that I am right.