Today [April 1st 2014], as well as being All Fools’ Day, is Chris Grayling’s birthday. But his party planning is more directed to next year and a rather more venerable anniversary. In 2015 Magna Carta will be 800 years old and Grayling is hosting a lavish celebration. The irony is clearly lost on him. The first non-lawyer to hold the post of Lord Chancellor in over 300 years is busy undermining Magna Carta’s greatest legacy, establishing the rule of law and protecting the citizen from the uncontrolled power of the state.
So far the Coalition has approved cuts in civil and now criminal Legal Aid of over half a billion pounds, privatised probation services, blocked access to justice by dismantling no win-no fee agreements and judicial review, imposed prohibitive court and tribunal fees and closed over 150 courts.
Grayling often picks his targets to please the Daily Mail. He continues to defend his ban on books (which Sadiq Khan has pledged to overturn) being sent to prisoners. But the Mail too has become alarmed by the increasingly authoritarian tone at the MoJ with increasing use of secret courts in civil, family and now magistrates’ court proceedings.
The Lord Chancellor has lost the confidence of the legal professions in a way none of his predecessors has. On taking office he swears this oath:
“I do swear that in the office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain I will respect the rule of law, defend the independence of the judiciary and discharge my duty to ensure the provision of resources for the efficient and effective support of the courts for which I am responsible. So help me God”
Now those whose integrity he is supposed to defend have started a petition calling on him to go
This week sees another coordinated protest, this time by solicitors and probation staff, against the dismantling of criminal justice.
Those who work in the criminal justice system are not highly paid but they bear a great responsibility to ensure a right to a fair trial and to see due process done, to keep the public safe and see the courts work efficiently and effectively, to rehabilitate offenders and prevent re-offending.
Grayling and his ministers avoid debate and negotiation, preferring the tactics of smear and divide and rule. They exaggerated the earnings of Legal Aid lawyers and present the representatives of the professions with take it or leave it deals designed to split an increasingly unified opposition.
Whether Grayling thinks these are clever tactics or he simply doesn’t care because he has an eye on his next job (he left DWP just as the Work Programme began to implode) this is storing up trouble for the future.
[This article was originally published on The Justice Gap, April 1st 2014]