Major reshuffle sees legal aid lawyer join MoJ

Ken Clarke and Jonathan Djanogly are out of the Ministry of Justice following this week’s reshuffle. Chris Grayling has become the first non-lawyer lord chancellor since 1558 and legal aid lawyer Helen Grant becomes a justice minister.

  • Pic by Francesca Moore

Djanogly, who has faced a stream of revelations about his financial interests as well as attacks for piloting LASPO through parliament, makes a return to the back benches. He will be replaced by two lawyers Jeremy Wright and Helen Grant.

Ian Duncan Smith turned down the offer of justice secretary apparently to protect his welfare reform programme. Instead Grayling, a former TV producer at BBC News, takes on Ken Clarke’s role in (in the words of the Daily Telegraph) ‘a move calculated to delight the Conservative Right’. ‘To the dismay of Liberal Democrats, Mr Grayling, a Eurosceptic Conservative known in opposition as the party’s Rightwing attack dog, took control of prisons policy and the courts system in England and Wales,’ the paper said. As shadow home secretary, Grayling said the his party was ‘actively considering’ raising prison terms for terrorists, backed automatic jail terms for anyone caught carrying a knife. In opposition, he claimed more criminals should be jailed backing plans to build 5,000 more prison places by selling off old Victorian city centre jails.

In 1558 Sir Nicholas Bacon was appointed to the office of Lord Chancellor, the last non-lawyer to fill the position. In July, Ken Clarke took part in a public conversation with Roger Smith, director of JUSTICE. He was asked if a Lord Chancellor had to be a lawyer. ‘The way we run British government it doesn’t really matter,’ Clarke replied. ‘The worst health ministers we used to have were doctors. You don’t have to be a Supreme Court judge [to do the job] you have access to advice from the best legal brains in the country.’

The barrister Oliver Heald replaces Edward Garnier QC as new solicitor general. The only MoJ ministers to survive this week’s shake-up were Lord McNally, the Liberal Democrat peer who steered LASPO through the Lords, and the attorney general Dominic Grieve. Prisons minister Crispin Blunt goes as does police minister Nick Herbert.

The haves and have-nots
Helen Grant, Maidstone and Weald Conservative MP, set up Grants Solicitors in 1996 focussing on family and divorce. According to Grant’s website, her firm ‘perhaps uniquely’ operates free weekly outreach and advice services in multiple locations across South London, Surrey and West Kent through its own dedicated DVLAAN (Domestic Violence Legal Advice and Assistance Network www.dvlaan.com) unit.

‘A successful solicitor, brought up by her single mother on a council estate in Carlisle,’ began a 2008 Guardian profile of the Tories’ first black female MP (who was until 2004 a member of the Labour party). ‘Her background, and the fact that her single mother was a nurse, would, I imagine, have made her a natural Labour supporter. She disagrees. Although her family were not overtly political, Gladys approved of Margaret Thatcher. “One of the key political moments was Thatcher’s right-to-buy council house policy. I remember the excitement that went round that neighbourhood, seeing people contemplating ownership after a lifetime of renting.”’

Grant has taken issue with the legal aid cuts. In an article in the Kent Messenger, the MP warned that LASPO could deepen the divide between the ‘haves and have-nots’ and that there was widespread disquiet among legal advice sector. ‘They tell me the predicted increase in volume and complexity of cases will be both unmanageable and unsustainable, even under existing funding arrangements,’ she said. ‘This will only be exacerbated by the forthcoming reductions in their own legal aid funding and other cuts in revenue from local authorities, charitable donations and government grants.’ While she was said to have accepted there was a need to curb spending, legal aid for civil cases was for many people ‘the only sword and shield in their armoury’

In the Guardian last year, as LASPO started its passage through the House of Commons, Grant wrote: ‘Our country’s financial health is a priority, but not at the cost of basic social justice. It cannot be right that those most in need of support are left without it … We must ensure we protect those most vulnerable here at home and treat this debate with the care it deserves.’

She joins Jeremy Wright, MP for Kenilworth and Southam, who was called to the Bar in 1996. He specialises in criminal law, both prosecution and defence, in the West Midlands area.

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About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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