The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP was appointed Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice on 10 May 2015.
The Secretary of State has oversight of all of Ministry of Justice business and is responsible for making improvements to the criminal justice and prison system so that it better serves the public.
There ya go – now you know what he’s ‘got to do with it’. He doesn’t actually get a salary for being Secretary of State for Justice – he elects to be paid for his role as Lord Chancellor which carries an annual ’emolument’ of £227,736 rather than the meagre £98,740 he would get if he took his combined salary as MP and Secretary of State. I can come up with at least 600 legislative reasons why Blair’s attempt to abolish the role of Lord Chancellor failed – but I cynically suspect that this last snippet may have proved the most efficient barrier.
Since Gove is handsomely rewarded for his role as Lord Chancellor, let us look at his duties.
The Lord Chancellor has traditionally had a key role to play, both by defending the independence of the judiciary and by ensuring that ‘the rule of law’ is respected. Sadly, the notorious Jarndyce v Jarndyce case from Bleak House was a mere flash in the pan compared to the centuries old debate amongst distinguished jurists as to what the ‘rule of law’ actually amounts to. A recent committee of Peers, after months of deliberation, could only lamely conclude that: the rule of law remains a complex and in some respects uncertain concept.
Lord Bingham of Cornhill, whilst the Lord Chief Justice, stated that observance of current statute law was not necessarily the same as governing in accordance with the rule of law.
“a state which savagely represses or persecutes sections of its people cannot in my view be regarded as observing the rule of law” even if these transgressions were “the subject of detailed laws duly enacted and scrupulously observed.”
There is a section of the British public that certainly feels persecuted at the moment – the falsely accused. The History teacher (Grayling) didn’t do anything for them, let’s see whether the journalist Gove can do more than dress up as Adam Ant and will hear their plaintive cries.
On Friday, a teaching assistant branded a ‘predatory Mrs Robinson’ after being accused of having sex with a 13-year-old schoolboy was cleared by a jury. She was cleared of six charges after the court heard she was the victim of ‘pernicious lies’ and of a seventh charge on the orders of the judge. The jury took just 79 minutes to return their verdict. Will that be the end of her troubles?
Not if another recent case is anything to go by. ‘AB’, a teacher, was summarily dismissed as a science teacher for inappropriate comments and conduct with potential sexual undertones, as well as a failure to maintain an appropriately professional boundary with students. So, nowhere near as potentially serious a case as our ‘predatory Mrs Robinson’ – nor did it ever get anywhere near a court. The General Teaching Council investigated AB, but it did not find that the allegations of improper conduct were made out. Following this, the Independent Safeguarding Authority decided not to include AB on its barred lists.
That was not the end of ABs troubles though. For when he came to get another job, as an unbarred teacher against whom an unproven allegation had been made – Hampshire Police decided to get involved. One officer took it upon himself to write to the local authority claiming that AB had also been dismissed from another school (untrue!); and that the allegation of improper conduct had involved ‘touching’ (equally untrue!) – his e-mail concluded “From what I’ve been told he should be nowhere near female students”.
“From what I’ve been told’ – there goes the mantra of #Ibelieveher.
Unsurprisingly, receiving such a resounding condemnation from an authoritative source – the local authority withdrew their offer of a job.
AB fought back – he made an FOI request. This told him that the source of the information ‘was the officer’s notebook’ – in the event, the notebook proved to contain neither statement – both of which were untrue anyway!
While the disclosure e-mail was in accordance with the law, this didn’t remove the need to carefully consider whether the disclosure was necessary and proportionate, particularly in light of the serious consequences of disclosure for AB’s future employment. The Court held that the disclosure failed these tests. If the information had been true, it would have been included on his Enhanced Criminal Record Certificate – that it wasn’t should have raised alarm bells.
Now you could say that this shows the law working correctly. The disclosure was ‘in accordance with the law’. However, as Lord Bingham said – that is not necessarily the same thing as governing ‘in accordance with the rule of law’.
AB is an innocent citizen. He may well have a family to support. An allegation has been found to be unfounded – yet he has still lost his job, his income, and been prevented from taking up another job for the years involved in fighting this case. Stressful years that will have been spent living on welfare payments. Somehow he will have found the money to pay legal fees that will not be refunded. If he feels persecuted, he has every right to do so.
One police officer, repeating unfounded allegations, following the mantra of #Ibelieveher, was his downfall.
A strong Lord Chancellor would be looking at this situation as a matter of urgency.
I’m hearted to hear that on Friday Mr Gove, our new Lord Chancellor, was to be found sitting in Judge Michael Stokes’ hearings at Nottingham Crown Court. He took with him Anna Soubry MP, who is at least a barrister. Judge Stokes took the opportunity to acquaint Gove with the realities of modern day justice in a case where ‘consent to sexual activity’ was at stake.
“The defendant has to wait the better part of two years for what on the face of it is a pretty straightforward trial.”
Lets hope that Gove continues on his mission to understand the realities of life as either a claimant or a defendant in the present climate…maybe he is only paying lip service to the creed of making improvements to the criminal justice service so that it better serves the public.
Even lip service would be an improvement on Grayling’s record. I’m optimistic for even more.