Sir Christopher Bellamy’s appointment as a justice minister can certainly be interpreted as a blow against ageism at Westminster. At 76, the QC and former magic circle bigwig is believed to be the oldest minister in government by more than three years. He’s even too old to be a judge.
Precisely why Bellamy would wish for this opportunity is not clear. Were I a wealthy and distinguished septuagenarian closer in age to 80 than 70, I am not sure serving as an obscure member of Boris Johnson’s present administration would appeal. Perhaps it was the lure of the ermine. Bellamy will be handed a life peerage so he can sit in the Lords and represent the government on justice policies in that chamber.
Of course, the appointment also intrigues for other reasons. It was Bellamy who led the government-commissioned independent review into criminal legal aid. This concluded in December 2021 that the sector needed a minimum of £135m every year to reverse what he described as ‘years of neglect’.
How ‘independent’ that review truly was would now seem to be a moot point; though it ought not to be over-egged. Governments rarely commission ‘independent’ reviews from the great and good which cannot be counted on to deliver findings ministers consider broadly congenial.
Even so, as the criminal bar prepares to ramp up direct action, Bellamy may have to defend government policy which is seemingly at odds with his own report. The Law Society’s rather well-timed response this week argues that the government deviated from Bellamy’s recommendations in two crucial respects in order to make the claim that it is investing £135m. Specifically, the MoJ based its calculations on projected volumes in 2024/25 and included £17m ‘for the Public Defender Service, for experts and for training grants’. None of this relates to Bellamy’s ‘primary objective of making this work economically viable for solicitors’. And then, of course, there is inflation pushing 10%…
Does the new minister agree with the Society? Someone should ask him, at the first opportunity.