Is shadow justice secretary David Lammy to the political right of Michael Gove, former Tory lord chancellor and justice secretary?
Of course not. And yet. In a mischievous vein, one could labour (sic) the point.
Readers who have kept an eye on the MoJ’s revolving door will recall that Gove – last justice secretary but five – did well at Petty France. Most notably, he undid much of the damage inflicted by predecessor Chris Grayling, upon whose many egregious missteps I need not dwell here. One of Gove’s more eyecatching proposals never left the drawing board, however. In 2016 he suggested that leading City firms should be forced to help plug the access to justice gap through a compulsory levy. More could be done by ‘the most successful in the legal profession to help protect justice for all’, he argued.
And then – silence. Wealthy City partners are an influential lobby. This all sounded a bit socialist.
Now Lammy has disinterred the sentiment, if not the policy. As top City law firms bank unprecedented profits, he told last week’s Labour party conference, they must do more to support those who cannot afford legal advice.
But Lammy’s plan is less radical than Gove’s. City firms would be expected to rack up 35 hours of pro bono per lawyer per year or be ineligible for government contracts. Many City firms already meet and indeed exceed this target. But more fundamentally, this looks like an admission of defeat by Lammy.
How so? New Labour was reborn in Brighton and the party has donned a brightly coloured fiscal straitjacket to prove it. What that might mean for justice spending when – and indeed if – the party is ever re-elected to power ought not to be understated.
I wrote here some time ago that justice secretaries like Gove were (and are) forced to come up with their own ingenious gimmicks for holding up the scaffolding that underpins justice and the rule of law. The quaint notion that this superstructure is one constituent of a mature democracy that should be paid for through general taxation is simply off the table.
The same now goes for shadow justice secretaries too, it seems.