Tel: 020 7626 0191


  • QLP Legal,
  • 124 City Road,
  • London, EC1V 2NX

A wolf in sheep’s clothing

We all knew it would not be long before Michael Gove made his mark as Justice Secretary and his speech at the Legatum Institute provides our first insight into what the new Justice Secretary aims to do. For those who, like me, do not know about the Institute, it is an international think tank which focuses on themes such as the interplay of capitalism and democracy and seeks an understanding of how national success can be achieved. Worthy.

For our ATE market the thought of further upheaval following LASPOA is not welcome, particularly as certain aspects of the reforms have yet to be fully assessed. (Please see our previous blog generational-change). But it can be expected that as a man who allegedly had a poster of Marx (or Lenin?) in his Westminster office as education secretary, Michael Gove was never going to be idle in his new role as top dog at the MoJ. He is a radical Tory and arguably a champion of the people depending on your political persuasion. So what might be in store for the legal world?

In our civil litigation sector we have seen a substantial backlog develop, in for example medical negligence cost assessments, with ATE insurers expending considerable sums to defend their premiums whether under the new or old system. The court system is creaking under the strain of claims and cost cutting on the MoJ budget does not suggest new resources will be made available. Mr Gove acknowledges the issue of funding in a general sense with a particular focus on the criminal justice system. The fact that access to justice favours those with wealth is inherently not in the spirit of an even handed justice system.

So there is a vote winning ‘nod’ to the hoary chestnut of the system letting down the victims of crime and much handwringing over the inefficiencies of our anachronistic Victorian court system. No prudent person would object to reform of either of those two ‘problems’, although Government modernisation tends to involve expensive computer systems that don’t work.

The commentary, that we here at QLP have been much intrigued to read, concentrates on Mr Gove’s remarks about how the wealthy side of the legal profession should do more, pro bono or via financial contribution, to support the non-profit but publically important elements of the justice system. This is a rehash of the ‘Big Society’ concept but should society have to rely on the availability of charity for something as important as The Law?

He is undoubtedly right that the status quo is indefensible but we need to see more detail as to how his ideas might work in practice. There is a well founded suspicion of change in the legal world, radically darting from one change to the next can have unforeseen consequences. Following the Woolf Reforms and with the benefit of hindsight it was entirely predictable that claimant solicitors would relish with gusto CFAs and a compensation culture would rocket, leading to the need for more reforms.

Being a fully paid up member of the South Eastern Rail’s commuting fraternity I have seen steep ticket rises (sympathy please) as tax payer funded subsidies have been withdrawn, so it seems that the Government wishes to freeze (or cut) current monies being spent on justice and explore other ways of finding the needed funds. In the insurance industry, we pay various levies for regulation, FOS, Financial Compensation Scheme and Insurance Premium Tax so maybe the Justice Secretary will explore funding possibilities but then again you can only hike courts fees by so much.

A radical Justice Secretary appointed at a time of radical change, it will be fascinating to see what happens next. We just hope that civil litigation is not in the spot light this time round.