Theresa May’s recent reshuffle was a bit of a damp squib. Not many top jobs changed, and those that were asked to change jobs either refused or resigned.But one change that did occur was in the appointment of a new Lord Chancellor. The new incumbent is David Gauke, taking over from David Lidington who had only been in post since June last year.Indeed this is the sixth Lord Chancellor in six years. More on that later.
David Gauke is an Ipswich man, born and bred!He is declared officially as a lifelong supporter of Ipswich Town, once revealing that he was present in 1994 when the Tractor Boys suffered their 9-0 defeat by Manchester United. Nor is he the first Lord Chancellor to hail from Ipswich. Cardinal Wolsey, whose statute proudly stands in St Nicholas Street was too in the early part of Henry VIII’s reign, before he was sacrificed to enable the King’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. I don’t know if there have been any Ipswich born Lord Chancellors in between. It would take a real anorak (not me guv!) to check that out.
What does the Lord Chancellor do? He is responsible for the efficient functioning and independence of the justice system.
The role has become more politicised of late.Before 2005 changes, he/she (Liz Truss in 2016 was the first female Lord Chancellor) was also Head of the Judiciary and always a lawyer. David Gauke is actually a lawyer, having been a solicitor in the City. But it is doubtful that means a return to a time when the role was less political in the widest sense. Lord Mackay for instance had a distinguished career as a judge and then served as Lord Chancellor for 10 years (1987-1997).
Changing Lord Chancellors at every reshuffle – whether because they have done a bad job or because they have done a good one and therefore are expected to be promoted further – is not good news for stable and efficient administration of the justice system.It takes time to get into any new job and be effective at it.
There are plenty of challenges too for the new Lord Chancellor:the review of legal aid (if indeed it can really be saved at all now following such severe successive cutbacks); the closure of courts and challenges of replacing them with ‘virtual hearings’, blockchain proposals for conveyancing and other housing market reforms and the threat to the UK as a pre-eminent venue of choice for commercial legal disputes following Brexit.
Brexit gives another parallel with Wolsey’s time as Lord Chancellor 500 years ago.Another break from Europe, albeit then represented by the hegemony of the Papacy. There was certainly a lot of disruption, then as now.Mediation and mediating skills are needed now more than ever, to settle these issues and also to settle ‘the troops’ who have suffered six bosses in six years.By troops I don’t mean here just the judges, court staff and the government lawyers (including Crown Prosecution Service) but all the barristers and solicitors who try to get justice for their clients within an increasingly inefficient and less resourced system. And even more important, mediation is vital as a tool available to settle the disputes which are before the courts and taking longer and longer to resolve, with the increasing number of ‘litigants in person’ representing themselves (another consequence of legal aid cutbacks), and therefore inevitably finding it hard to be objective and sensible, sometimes in their own cases.
Good luck to the new Lord Chancellor of Ipswich Town.He needs it.
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