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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

Legal profession reacts to appointment of new PM and justice secretary

Legal profession reacts to appointment of new PM and justice secretary


The reaction has been mixed

The appointment of Rishi Sunak as prime minister has been broadly welcomed by the legal profession, while the re-appointment of Dominic Raab as justice secretary has met a mixed reception.

In his first speech as prime minister yesterday (25 October), Sunak acknowledged the country is facing a “profound economic crisis” due to the impact of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. He vowed to “place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda”. 

Sunak promised: “A stronger NHS. Better schools. Safer streets. Control of our borders. Protecting our environment. Supporting our armed forces. Levelling up and building an economy that embraces the opportunities of Brexit, where businesses invest, innovate, and create jobs.”

However, there was no mention of the justice system. The Law Society said the justice system “must be a key priority” for the new PM.

“Our justice system is beset by backlogs and plagued by delays, causing anger and anguish to any who use our courts. Our crumbling court estate is a visual reminder of the damage caused by years of chronic underfunding,” said Law Society president, Lubna Shuja.

Shuja called on the new PM to “fix” the “chronically underfunded” justice system and asked him to commit to implementation of the full 15 per cent criminal legal aid rate increase – the minimum recommended by Lord Bellamy.

The Law Society president said the Civil Legal Aid Review – on pause since 2018 – must be launched “urgently” to ensure timely access to justice for all.

“Solicitors are feeling the squeeze of the increasing cost of doing business. The new Prime Minister must take action to ensure that our professional services sector can not only survive but thrive, and drive growth in our economy,” said Shuja.

“Only investment across the entire system will repair the damage. It is essential that Sunak’s government, as an absolute minimum, maintains justice spending and addresses the funding gap which is crushing the system.

Jan Matthews, managing partner at Reeds Solicitors, welcomed Sunak’s appointment: “We welcome the elevation of Rishi Sunak to the position Prime Minister, and hope that this now marks the end of turmoil within our Government for the rest of their parliamentary term”. 

He said: “Whilst we appreciate that the country’s economic prospects are currently not looking good, the provision of criminal legal aid defence services remain in the same dire circumstances so well described by Sir Bellamy’s report and cannot be ignored if the criminal justice system is to continue to operate in any meaningful way. 

“We therefore hope that the government will continue to pay some small attention to the outcome of the criminal legal aid review due in November, taking into consideration the views of contract holders and the Law Society”. 

However, Matthews was disappointed with Raab’s re-appointment as justice secretary: “Given Dominic Raab's previous refusal to engage with the legal profession concerning the implementation of the Bellamy report, his appointment is concerning when it is clear that firms need at least the full minimum recommended increase in legal aid fees in order to remain sustainable.

“We hope that Mr Sunak's premiership will mean that there is a change of approach across all of Government, including the Ministry of Justice.” 

Julian Hayes, senior partner at Berris Law, had similar misgivings: “Dominic Raab’s return as Justice Secretary is unfortunate, and I fear does not bode well for the profession and in particular the courts and criminal justice system.

“He had failed to engage with professionals to resolve the crisis. Perhaps it reflects the ‘difficult decisions’ that the PM and Chancellor have referred to when it comes to considering cuts in public services?

“Regrettably, I do not consider that we are in good or reliable hands with this latest version of a conservative government. I hope that I am wrong and that Mr. Raab has learnt lessons from his first tenure in that role. He must work with the profession to ensure the crisis is averted.”

However, Professor Chris Bones, chair of CILEX, was more optimistic, and said CILEX looked forward to “continuing the positive and constructive relationship we built when he was last in office”.

“We hope that he will bring some continuity to the justice system and will complete the vital work that he previously commenced to secure change that will improve the social mobility and diversity across the legal profession,” he added.

Bones said it was “crucial” there were no further delays to reforms.