Former education secretary Michael Gove has replaced Chris Grayling (pictured) as Secretary of State for Justice as part of Prime Minister David Cameron’s post-election reshuffle while Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner, Lord Falconer, has been named as the Labour Party’s opposition spokesperson for the ministry.
Gove, whose four-year stint in charge of the department for education was ended in July 2014 after he was moved into a less public role as chief whip, carried out wide-ranging reform to the British education system and has been given a similar remit as justice secretary.
With the Conservatives having secured a majority with 330 seats in the House of Commons in last week’s general election, and the leaders of the Labour party, Liberal Democrats and UKIP all resigning, the government is seeking to fast track changes that will include scrapping the Human Rights Act 1998.
Gove also becomes only the second non-lawyer to take on the role of Lord Chancellor in modern times and will face former Lord Chancellor, QC and partner at Gibson Dunn, Lord Falconer, over the despatch boxes. Lord Falconer replaces Sadiq Khan who is stepping down from Labour’s shadow cabinet as the party also carries out a reshuffle of its team after losing several prominent members including shadow chancellor Ed Balls and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander. Grayling meanwhile has been made Leader of the House of Commons as well as Lord President of the Council.
One of the chief objectives for Gove will be implementing the Conservative plan to ditch the Human Rights Act following a series of decisions at European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which have gone against the UK including ruling the country was in breach of the Act by not allowing all prisoners the vote. Cameron once said that prisoners voting makes him feel ‘physically ill’ while long serving home secretary Theresa May has also previously criticised the Act, which protects freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, freedom from slavery and forced labour and no punishment without law, over decisions preventing deportations.
The Conservative party manifesto read: ‘The next Conservative government will scrap the Human Rights Act, and introduce a British Bill of Rights. This will break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and make our own Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK.’
The manifesto also pledged to ‘continue to review our legal aid systems’, with Grayling having reduced the threshold at which people qualify for free legal support. The Law Society and a host of legal bodies criticised the steep increases in court fees that were implemented by Grayling in March. The changes, which affect a wide range of claims from commercial court hearings to divorce proceedings, has resulted in 65% rise to £1,000 for court fees on claims worth up to £20,000, rising to £10,000 for claims worth over £200,000. Critics claim this erodes the ability for small businesses and individuals to bring a claim against big companies and the banks. He also launched consultations in January to curb the breadth of the judical review process.
Also joining Gove’s team at the MoJ as a junior minister is former Linklaters lawyer Dominic Raab, who held the safe Conservative seat of Esher and Walton by a majority of over 28,000 last week. An expert on human rights, Raab’s book, The Assault on Liberty – What Went Wrong with Rights, published in 2009, attacked Labour’s stance on human rights, making the case for British Bill of Rights.