Conservative peer Lord Faulks QC has quit as Minister of State for Justice after Liz Truss became the third consecutive non-lawyer to be made Lord Chancellor.
While the appointment has been lauded in some quarters for breaking an 800-year run of male Lord Chancellors, new UK prime minister Theresa May’s move to replace Westminster heavyweight Michael Gove with such a junior minister has provoked fears of further government mishandling of the justice brief.
Faulks told The Times that the appointment of Truss (pictured) puts the justice system at risk at a time of cost-cutting. ‘I have nothing against Ms Truss personally. But is she going to have the clout able to stand up to the prime minister when necessary on behalf of the judges? Is she going to be able to stand up, come the moment, to the prime minister, for the rule of law and for the judiciary…without fear of damaging her career?’
Faulks, who was appointed Minister of State for Justice in December 2013, previously headed 1 Chancery Lane chambers for nine years until 2007 and is a well-regarded in City law. He took silk in 1996.
With the justice budget, which stood at £9bn when David Cameron became prime minister in 2010, set to be slashed by a third to just £6bn by 2020, a string of unpopular measures have been implemented in recent years. Legal aid cuts have arguably been the most provocative move by the government, but increases to court fees at the same time as slashing the pensions of judges, have been equally as unpopular.
The appointment of Truss was 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. Renowned City litigator, Ted Greeno of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, told Legal Business he’s ‘pleased’ Lord Faulks has resigned as it ‘is making the point that the Ministry of Justice does not have a big enough voice in cabinet’.
Greeno added: ‘What we have seen over the recent tenure of non-lawyer Lord Chancellors is an apparent de-prioritisation of the justice system and swingeing cuts. Lord Chancellors have either been unable or unwilling to win an argument against the Treasury. As a result, some policies have been implemented which will actually lose net revenue for the Treasury. Liz Truss is no doubt an excellent Minister but, as a lay Lord Chancellor, is unlikely to be able to speak with the necessary knowledge or authority in Cabinet when required to stand up for the justice system. Nor is it likely that she will be prepared to do so.’
‘It is the legal profession’s duty to defend the rule of law. However, the cry always comes back that lawyers are only out to protect their vested interests. In this simplistic way, lawyers’ valuable and genuine views are often dismissed, without being properly assessed. The recent consultations on court fees are a good example. Without an authoritative voice in cabinet, such cynicism and laziness of thought will continue to allow ill–conceived reforms to eat away at the integrity of the system and, ultimately, the rule of law.’
Many in the profession were disappointed that Dominic Grieve QC missed out on the role, having fallen out of favour in Westminster after standing up for the European Convention on Human Rights when previous prime minister David Cameron floated the idea of a British Bill of Rights to appease Eurosceptic members of the Conservative party. One prominent law firm leader recently told Legal Business: ”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?’