Cuts opponents fuelled by self-interest, says Clarke
The lord chancellor has accepted that not enough progress has been made to increase judicial diversity - and labelled the profession’s lobbying over the legal cuts ‘predictable’ and not client-centred.
Talking to Justice director Roger Smith last night in an event hosted by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Kenneth Clarke said: ‘We’re not making the pace on diversity that we should be.’
He said the senior judiciary is still dominated by white male public school appointees, which needs to be addressed to make the bench is ‘more genuinely representative of society as a whole’.
Clarke said it can no longer be argued simply that it takes time for women in the profession to work their way up to the upper echelons. ‘The profession should ask why so many women get up to a certain point and not beyond it. There is something about the career structure of the law,’ he said.
On the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, Clarke said he expected a ‘great row’ about the cuts, but said that they are necessary to reduce the deficit and to prevent the legal aid budget ‘growing like topsy’ as had happened in the past.
‘We have reached the stage where the taxpayer is funding a range of litigation beyond a level that is justifiable,’ he said.
He accepted that some practitioners will be ‘badly hit’ by the cuts and that some will have to ‘rethink the business model on which they work’. But he maintained that, after the cuts have been implemented clients with serious and important cases with a reasonable chance of success will still be able to be secure representation.
He said the lobbying against the bill had come largely from the profession, suggesting it was ‘predictable’ and based mainly on financial self-interest. He defended his decision not to contest the Ministry of Justice’s budget cut of £2bn a year (£350m of which will come from legal aid cuts) by saying he was a strong supporter of the government’s action to tackle the deficit reduction.
Clarke contrasted his stance at the MoJ with those he had taken in previous ministerial posts where ‘I had always sought to settle early and try to get more money for my department’. But at the MoJ, his approach was to introduce financial constraint and set a budget that was ‘safely deliverable’, rather than ‘bidding for as much as we can get’.