Tag Archives: Human Rights

Michael GOVE -Justice Secretary

Following the Conservative election victory on 07 May 2015, Cameron replaced Chris Grayling as Justice Secretary (Lord Chancellor) with Michael Gove. Gove was sacked by incoming Prime Minister Theresa May on 14 July 2016, and replaced by Liz Truss. This blog reflects on his achievements and failures in office.

Pre Justice Secretary

Gove was previously Education secretary, attracting controversy and unpopularity in equal measure. A review by Ian Leslie of Gove’s successes and failures , together with his challenges ahead as Justice secretary, was published here in the New Statesman.

He  consistently championed cutting public expenditure, other than his own (the extent of his expenses claims outlined in the Telegraph here.)

 Comments on his appointment 

A cautious welcome and “improvement on his predecessor” said Jerry Hayes (barrister and former Tory MP)

An assessment and initial analysis in this article in Legal Voice

A piece by Tom Smith (writing for the Justice Gap) looked at the ongoing battle with criminal legal aid contracting and asked whether the approach to Gove should be Conciliation or revolution?

There was certainly nothing conciliatory in Frankie Boyle’s description of Gove as a tree-frog escaping a scrotum…

A website with opportunity to slap Michael Gove was launched and continues to attract regular hits (viaThis link.)

First speech

On 23 June Gove delivered his first policy speech since appointment, describing a “two-tier” system of justice.
My reaction via BBC News in this clip.

He identified the problem, but not the cause of the problem, making no mention of the Legal Aid cuts which led to two-tier justice.  He also failed to identify the solution (proper funding) , instead preferring to focus on “improved technology and increased digitalisation” and the notion that there might be more “pro-bono” work from better-paid commercial lawyers who may want to dabble in social justice.

Gove and Prison Reform

Gove was a huge improvement on his predecessor, apparently wanting to take a constructive approach to a prison service in crisis. Eventually there were reforms set out in Queen’s speech (May 2016) but lacking the investment needed to really tackle the problems. He had however already overturned Grayling’s ridiculed and unlawful  prison book ban.
Gove and Legal Aid 

Gove initially appeared set on implementing further cuts to Legal Aid, albeit by continuing with the proposals of his disastrous predecessor Grayling. He  declined to cancel the 8.75% cut which came into effect on 1st July, leading to a series of firms refusing to act in what was to all intents and purposes a Legal Aid Strike. Jack of Kent summarised the issues in his excellent blog “Gove and the Lawyers revolt.”

After several weeks of the Criminal Lawyer’s strike, the representative bodies (LCCSA and CLSA) were invited to meet Gove- a step forward from Grayling who would not engage. Further talks with MoJ were offered, and action was suspended as a “goodwill gesture”. Finally, the offer from Gove was communicated in September- a suspension of the latest 8.75% cut for three months, from January 2016. Tendering proceeded for “two-tier” contracts, and contract awards were made -but on a flawed basis. Unsuccessful bidders launched legal actions (for outcome, see “ending two-tier” below)

In the meantime….

Gove squandered taxpayers cash on empty Courts, with Courts closed to save money, but many remaining unsold (reported in the daily Mirror.)

MOJ and the Saudi contract

Goves efforts to extricate the MOJ from Graylings ill-judged commercial contracts with a despotic regime are explained here in an article by Jack of Kent.

Poetry

Poem for Mr Gove (published on National Poetry Day last year)

Gove’s Visit to Highbury Court

In January 2016 the Lord Chancellor visited Highbury Corner Magistrates Court, with an army of  civil servants and advisers. He visited the Advice Service based at that Court, and every department but met no representative of the Defence Advocates. I attempted to engage him, and was able to present him with a letter offering to meet:-

We were advised that Mr Gove was indeed willing to meet a representative of the London Defence Community, for an informal constructive chat, and his advisers would set up a meeting as soon as possible. That was confirmed in several emails, but never happened. Gove was invited to the LCCSA Summer Party, but failed to attend and was replaced with a G(l)ove puppet.

Ending Two-tier contracting!

In January 2016 Gove finally abandoned Grayling’s plans for a two-tier justice system with this announcement. This was welcomed by most solicitors (see eg LCCSA comment) Detail and comment in this piece in Solicitors Journal.

Gove and Grayling

Cancelling two tier, ending the prisoner book ban and Saudi contract (above) and the Criminal Court Charge, meant that at least six of Grayling’s main policy disasters were now overturned. Read this useful summary of the top 6 reversals -within six months! Gove 6, Grayling 0

Missing in Action: Gove and Brexit

In February, Gove came out (in this Spectator Article) as a key cheerleader for the “Leave” campaign in the proposed referendum. For the next four months he was never out of the news- usually alongside Boris- as that toxic campaign rumbled on. I do not intend to include Brexit in this blog- suffice to say that tumbleweed blew around the MOJ offices, and most legal aid lawyers were just relieved to be left alone in peace and quiet, as were Human Rights lawyers (see below)

Gove and Human Rights

Abolishing the Human Rights Act was seen by some commentators as both the most urgent and most difficult task in Gove’s in-tray (see eg this analysis by Joshua Rozenberg) In practice, Gove (sensibly) did absolutely nothing about it.

The Gove Committee

During his period of MOJ abstinence Lawyers received the news about the “advisory committee” that Gove had promised in January (above) – but not from Mr Gove or even the MOJ – but from the apparent chair, Gove’s friend Gary Bell QC (aka “The legalizer“)  in this article (TLS Gazette 24/05/16)   Mr Bell appeared to have selected members of the Bar-dominated committee himself, comprising friends, colleagues and an instructing solicitor, leading the Law Society to question the diversity of the panel. Read more about Bell (and his controversial views on Solicitor-Advocates) here.

Personal Life

Gove is married to DailyMail journalist Sarah Vine, a glimpse into their relationship was offered by an email from her to Gove that was accidentally sent to the wrong address and then published, as described here (Guardian, 29/06/16). See also her account of the day after Brexit as Reported in the Daily Mail on the same day.

Tory Leadership bid

On 30 June Gove announced he was standing as a candidate to be the Conservative Party Leader (and therefore if successful, Prime Minister) . He did not resign as Justice Secretary. By 7th July he was out of the running, failing to attract support and generally ridiculed for his disloyalty. He was proved right about one thing – he was unsuitable to be PM.

Meanwhile, judging by the content it appears that somebody other than Mr Gove had registered the Gove2016 website…..

Sacked

Post Brexit vote, Gove was now a Minister waiting for the axe. He had unfinished business that had been on hold during his electioneering- continuing  prison reform, and perhaps reforming the Court of Appeal (as argued by Julie Price in this powerful piece in the Justice Gap.)  Theresa May sacked Gove in appointing her initial cabinet, having assumed office the previous day.

Conclusion

Gove deserves two cheers, one for leaving human rights and legal aid alone, and another for positive noises on prison rehabilitation. Whether those noises amount to genuine reform is doubtful – see this analysis  (in “the Justice Gap”)

Confounding expectations, Michael Gove was a better Justice Secretary than most criminal lawyers or legal aid lawyers could have hoped for,  largely because he was an improvement on Grayling, which was admittedly a low threshold.

Michael Gove spent the first half of his tenure undoing the damage inflicted by his predecessor and the second half doing very little. 

On that basis alone, he was quickly missed, and initial assessments of his successor were underwhelming -see this assessment of Liz Truss.

Gove-Post Justice Secretary

Gove returned to journalism, writing for the Times. He had been a staunch cheerleader for Rupert Murdoch, even during the Leveson enquiry (leading to this call by Ian Hislop for an investigation)

He returned to the cabinet following May’s ill- judged “snap election” in June 2017.

More GOVE

The classic video of “Michael Gove falling over” (a YouTube classic)

Gove at Oxford Union Debating Society reveals what is under his kilt, and in so doing reveals also his character (Here)

An unfortunate encounter with salt here

Below- an effigy of Mr Gove making an appearance at a Save UK Justice rally, January 2016

image

#WriteAPoemAboutTories

Twitter- sized poems about justice for #NationalPoetryDay:-

I want to set on fire
Grayling the mendacious liar
He cut legal aid
For the low paid
While his expenses got ever higher

Tories ban Human Rights
They are despicable shites
Time for you and me
To leave UK PLC
Will the last 1 please turn out the lights?

It’s harder than it looks
Being tough on crooks
But poor Chris grayling
Was certainly failing
In banning prisoners books

Its hard I must confess
to compose a poem in 140 or less
Christopher Grayling
rhymes with Failing
and to be perfectly blunt
he’s a bit of a

In Defence of Rights

Have a listen to a Human Rights playlist here
There are totalitarian States where people’s rights are severely restricted if recognised at all, and there are Countries which acknowledge and allow basic freedoms. Which type of State would you prefer to reside in?
In most European Countries our rights are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)
It is strange then that the “human rights” have become vilified and derided, by popular media and some politicians. So effective has the drip-drip of poisonous anti-Human rights propaganda been, that many people now think of “Human Rights” in a negative way, and Human Rights have bome a political football.   

The Human Rights Act

Rather than applicants having to exhaust domestic remedies and then petition Stasbourg, the 1997 Human Rights Act incorporated convention rights into UK law. It was a sensible piece of legislation, and although we should give credit to Labour for its introduction there was some cross-party support at the time.

Labour continue to support the Human Rights Act as do the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, but the Tory Leadership toys with the abolition of the Act, and even withdrawal from the ECHR, talking instead of a “British” Bill of Rights.
It infuriates some when rights are invoked by undesirable types, eg prisoners (limited right in certain circumstances to vote) or “criminals” (often including those accused of but not convicted of crime)
 Tory Home Secretary Theresa May recently said those that support The ECHR care “more about criminals than the rest of us”
That is a pernicious and entirely false argument. Supporters of rights consider them universal, equally applicable to all. Anyone accused of a criminal offence has a right to a fair trial, whether guilty or innocent (falsely accused). Ironically, under the HRA victim rights have developed faster than defendant rights, making the Act more of a Victims charter than the Villains Charter it is often mis-named.
Although we all enjoy protected rights, many of us never have them infringed. It is those on the margins- stateless, homeless, mentally ill, prisoners, the really vulnerable who most frequently have rights infringed or ignored (acknowledged by Lord Bingham in his acclaimed speech to Liberty. ) These groups are not a politically popular constituency. But rights belong to us all, or none of us. In taking away rights(or the ability to enforce them) from marginalised groups, we lose them ourselves, and may only realise their true worth when it is too late.
Theresa May promised to scrap the Human Rights Act, notwithstanding the fact that the European Court of Human Rights was championed by Winston Churchill, and designed after the horrors of WW2 to protect individual rights and freedoms from tyranny. Those rights have not changed, and once they are gone it’s not just “immigrants and criminals” who lose them- we all do. These include your right to privacy, to freedom of expression, family life and right to a fair trial. Which of those would you want to lose?
In fact, human rights reflect values of fairness and tolerance which are considered to be British values (and virtues) by some of those who denigrate the HRA.
There have been many good uses of human rights legislation of which we should all be proud, as pointed out by Amnesty International here.

Now as Cameron and Co. continue planning to replace the HRA with a “Bill of Rights” (a proposal described by Liberty as legally illiterate”) championed by  Chris Grayling

I call on everyone to oppose these proposals, and support Human Rights.

  
As the great Bob Marley said “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights” (full lyrics here)

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