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New Lord Chancellor Pledges to Modernize Judiciary

New Lord Chancellor Pledges to Modernize Judiciary

David Gauke MP has been sworn in as the new Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, becoming the first-ever solicitor to hold the position.

Mr Gauke, whose official title is now Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, succeeds David Lidington. He is the fourth person to be appointed to the office since 2015. He officially entered the joint role of Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary on January 8th, becoming a key ministerial figure in overseeing a number of important legal issues.

His responsibilities now include safeguarding the efficiency and independence of the courts, overseeing judicial policy and heading the overall strategies of the Ministry of Justice.

The new Lord Chancellor spoke during his swearing-in ceremony at the Royal Courts of Justice last month to express his gratitude for the appointment, which he called “a huge honour and deeply humbling,” albeit “daunting.”

He also expressed his concern for the current state of working conditions in the judiciary and intimated that this is an area he hopes to prioritise.

With relations between the judiciary and the government having been fraught in recent years, Mr Gauke’s praise for judges and his assurances that he will protect their interests mark an attempt to leave tensions behind and move forward.

If judiciary conditions are to improve however, Mr Gauke will be expected to make significant policy changes.

Recent cuts to judges’ wages and pensions have aggravated the shrinking pool for recruitment and complaints of poor working conditions. To this end, the Lord Chancellor says that he plans to both reform and modernize the courts, with an overhaul of IT systems throughout the service to make paperwork simpler and more streamlined.

Move to improve transparency

He also vows to bring greater transparency of the judiciary’s decisions to the public, observing this “is the general direction we are going in as a society.” So far, no mention has been made of redressing the cutbacks to legal aid.

Issues with the judiciary have been in the public eye recently, with the uproar surrounding the decision to release serial rapist John Worboys coming as Mr Gauke assumed office. In response, he has established a review of the Parole Board‘s workings and is taking advice on whether he has standing to apply for a judicial review of the Worboys decision.

In a statement on Twitter, the Lord Chancellor said of his plans:

“I am looking forward to meeting experts and front line staff to drive the crucial work started by my predecessors, to reform our prisons and courts, uphold the rule of law and promote our world-leading legal services.”

Mr Gauke was previously one of the ministers involved in the 2012 expenses scandal, when a Channel 4 Dispatches programme showed the then Treasury Minister claiming expenses for an apartment in central London, while owning another home that was one hour’s journey away from London on public transport.

Since then, he has been Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Unlike the preceding four Lord Chancellors, Mr Gauke’s training is in law and he previously worked as a solicitor for a City law firm, before being elected into Parliament as MP for South West Hertfordshire in 2005.

Protecting Britain’s place on the global legal stage

The protection of Britain’s world-leading legal services industry will also be a priority for the Lord Chancellor as British law navigates the challenges of Brexit. He has vowed to ensure that Britain’s legal sector remains a key player on the global stage, saying: “Other jurisdictions may well want to take our place in the market. But we don’t intend to let that happen.”

Earlier in February, a sub-group of the House of Lords EU Committee published a report on Brexit which recognised that the government would have to keenly protect British legal services to ensure that the UK remains “Europe’s foremost jurisdiction for private damages actions” after exiting from the European Union.

An annual report on the UK legal services market from IRN Research shows that the British legal industry experienced an encouraging 4% growth in 2017, with law firms stabilising and continuing improvements forecast for the next three years.

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