The justice ministry seems to have gone into hibernation, but solicitors - and their clients - need certainty.
Michael Gove will celebrate a year as justice secretary next month – and it’s been a surprisingly smooth ride.
The lord chancellor was already in favour with lawyers for the simple fact that he is not predecessor Chris Grayling. Once he started to dismantle some of Grayling’s policies, he was lauded.
But the reforming zeal we expected has not exactly materialised. This is a department that seems to have gone into hibernation.
Of course politics is on hold until the EU referendum and the inevitable fallout, whatever the result. Gove, as a figurehead of the 'out' campaign, is naturally a little distracted and may not even be in the post after June. The issue is the same across Whitehall. What with the referendum, local elections and the summer recess, paralysis is likely to persist to the autumn.
But the problem is we have several justice issues outstanding, directly affecting the livelihoods of thousands of people – and those people need some certainty.
Expecting a decision to come from the Ministry of Justice is like waiting at rush hour for a bus, with your phone app assuring you several of them are ‘due’.
What has happened to personal injury reform? George Osborne wrote out his shopping list last November, but we’ve had nothing since. The British bill of rights was supposed to appear last year, but has disappeared into the ministry's Bermuda Triangle.
The ministry’s inertia seems to be spreading
A review of employment tribunal fees was apparently written in November and still sits on the ‘to do’ pile.
The review of legal services regulation was reported to be coming out before Easter. At this rate Creme Eggs will be back on the shelves before that emerges.
The MoJ’s inertia seems to be spreading. The Department of Health has sat on the issue of fixed fees for so long, it will soon need to revise the amounts. Fixed fees were supposed to be in force by October, a date which now looks, at best, unlikely.
Requesting the government speed things up a little may be filed under ‘be careful what you wish for’. The ongoing mess around MedCo is testament to what happens when sensible policy is overtaken by political expediency. We may well get updates on all these issues within days.
And people returning to work after Easter to find the proposed sale of Land Registry had been rushed out just before Good Friday would no doubt be grateful for a little government hesitancy.
But while these issues remain unresolved - and remember, most require several months of consultation - how are law firms supposed to respond? This inaction is leaving everyone in limbo.
John Hyde is Gazette deputy news editor