Doing the shuffle

Posted by Shami Chakrabarti on 04 September 2012

Ken Clarke may be a national treasure but so is Britain’s internationally-admired justice system. We hope that following today’s reshuffle he remains a staunch friend of the Human Rights Act and penal reform at the Cabinet table but also worry that his past positions on legal aid and secret courts leave a dangerous legacy for access to justice in our country.

As for Mr Clarke’s replacement at the Ministry of Justice, to be fair a closer look at our tough-talking new Lord Chancellor reveals a principled stance as Shadow Home Secretary in opposition against ID cards and blanket DNA retention, even citing the European Court of Human Rights in his cause. Further, when the last Government mooted the "Snoopers' Charter", now adopted by the Coalition as a draft Bill, Chris Grayling accused Ministers of having “built a culture of surveillance which goes far beyond terrorism and crime”. We must wait to see if this view has changed.

He is reportedly critical of human rights but has also written that “our justice system and society are based on fundamental principles” that no government has the right to change. Liberty looks forward to reminding him of this in defending the Human Rights Act and asking him to rethink the odious Justice and Security Bill which would create secret courts and put government above the law.

Elsewhere we were sorry to see Edward Garnier QC lose his Solicitor General post in the shuffle. He always seemed to us to be a lawyer first and a politician second – a very good quality in any law officer.

Finally Sayeeda Warsi has to be respected for her work as the first Muslim woman Cabinet member, capable of robust attacks on racism – both inside her party and well beyond it. We hope that her thoughts and experience of faith, race and identity in particular will still find voice when she attends Cabinet in the future.

We await any adjustments to Ed Miliband’s Labour Shadow Cabinet team in response. Will he take the opportunity to promote MPs with the best credentials on fundamental rights and freedoms to greater prominence? And with women and ethnic minorities as key floating voters at the next election, what will any of the main parties do to earn the trust of these long-neglected groups?