City lawyers have expressed disappointment as Liz Truss has been made the new justice secretary, replacing Michael Gove. Gove, a prominent Brexit campaigner and candidate for Conservative leader following the resignation of UK prime minister David Cameron, had spent just 14 months in the role.
In a cabinet reshuffle following her successful leadership bid, new UK prime minister Theresa May has chosen to sack her former rival and replace him with Truss. Promoted from her brief as environment, food and rural affairs secretary, Truss becomes the first female Lord Chancellor and justice secretary. She was elected to parliament in 2010.
Despite a warm reaction from the market when Gove (pictured) replaced the highly unpopular Chris Grayling, Gove had an unproductive spell as justice secretary that was overshadowed by his prominent role in the Brexit campaign, which the City was overwhelmingly against.
However, the appointment of Truss is an underwhelming one, given her track record in voting in favour of legal aid cuts, her perceived lack of intellectual rigour, and the fact that she is the third consecutive non-lawyer to hold the post of Lord Chancellor.
One prominent law firm leader told Legal Business: ‘I was hoping for a lawyer to be appointed. The problem with a non-lawyer in a highly technical department coming in, especially someone with no background in law whatsoever, is that there is a huge learning process.
They added: ‘I went to a dinner with Gove and he had no real understanding of the legal landscape in the City. You’d say to him “have you heard of Linklaters?” and he’d say no. Liz Truss won’t have the first idea about how the legal system works. It’s easy to come up with policy changes that might appear economically sensible but in the context of how the legal world fits together, are not. I’m disappointed. How did Dominic Grieve not get the job?’
David Wolfson QC of One Essex Court said: ‘Gove was going to struggle politically to stay on but a lot of lawyers will be sad to see him go as he had a genuine love for the legal system and was passionate about the rule of law.’
He added: ‘One key issue is financing the system. We live in an age of limited public expenditure and some of things that ought to be done in the courts – such as going paperless – need to be paid for up-front, even if there are savings down the line. There are efficiencies to be had, such as using buildings more effectively. Other public buildings are dealt with in this way – we see sports clubs using school fields and community groups using their halls – subject to security issues, there’s no reason not add multiple uses to court buildings, which are often used for limited hours and closed for several weeks at a time.’
Gove is the second biggest Westminster giant to be axed by May, the UK’s first female prime minister since Margaret Thatcher, following George Osborne’s sacking as Chancellor last night. Osborne has been replaced by Philip Hammond.
Gove caused consternation in the City last year when he proposed a tax on City law firms that could have hit the sector with a £100m bill during his short stint as Lord Chancellor. While Gove got as far as holding a roundtable meeting with City law firm leaders at Clifford Chance’s Canary Wharf HQ, the Treasury ultimately blocked the plan due to the lack of appetite for other departments to introduce their own taxation. Gove was, however, widely praised for scrapping the criminal courts charge and his liberal stance of prison reform.
Grayling caused a rift between the government and the judiciary by slashing legal aid for the most needy, pressing ahead with plans to reduce judges’ pay and pensions, which has since led 200 judges suing the UK government over age discrimination, hiking commercial court fees and imposing a widely criticised 12-book limit for prisoners.