The appointment of the loathsome Michael Gove as justice secretary bodes ill for human rights in Britain. Solicitor Madeleine Corr seeks inspiration from teachers who ousted him from the education department.
“It is of course a while ago now but let’s just enjoy again, for a moment, the departure of Michael Gove from the Department for Education…and all those ‘Gove Must Go’ badges now take their place with all the other campaign memorabilia.”
Those were the words of Christine Blower addressing this year’s National Union of Teachers conference.
It is a victory for teachers that Gove is no longer spearheading the demise of state schools; it is a disaster for those working in legal aided law that he is now spearheading the demise of access to justice.
On 8 May David Cameron swiftly assembled his cabinet. As he did so legal aid lawyers adopted the brace position, waiting nervously to see if Chris Grayling, the Lord Chancellor, would be reinstated.
On the Saturday morning there was a moment of relief — Grayling had been demoted. Then it sank in: Grayling had been replaced by Gove.
Unable to break the teachers and continue with his perverse zeal for free schools, Gove had been put in charge of justice — a man who said Britain was “wrong to abolish hanging” in the 1960s.
Grayling tried his utmost to terminate access to justice for all. Even his own side were not too fond. Jerry Hayes, a former Tory MP and barrister, said: “Grayling is a shit that needs to be flushed…he is incompetent and a disgrace.”
Legal aid lawyers have been campaigning against Grayling’s cuts, including a 17 percent cut to criminal legal aid fees, the closure of 1,000 firms, limited funding for judicial review and removing advice for prisoners’ complaints.
Grayling had no respect for the principle of access to justice for all. He refused to properly consult lawyers and the judiciary, and despite warnings about the inevitable devastating impact of the cuts, he persisted with tyrannical determination.
Legal aid lawyers were no fans of Grayling. But now we have Gove. And it is terrifying to contemplate what the human cost will be of his time in the Ministry of Justice. Even Cameron considered that “Gove’s confrontational approach to teachers had made him toxic”.
His appointment is a clear sign that this Tory administration is set to destroy legal aid and now they would like to dump the Human Rights Act (HRA) too.
The HRA was introduced with much fanfare by Tony Blair’s New Labour government in 1998. It embodies the European Convention of Human Rights and enshrines those rights into domestic law. It was introduced following the Second World War as a basic set of principles to which we should all adhere.
The HRA did not add any new rights, but it did make it simpler to hold the state, public and private bodies to account.
These include the right to life, the prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to have private and family life respected — often used to protect families being fragmented in housing or immigration removal cases.
Considering Gove was in favour of the death penalty there is every chance he’s up for torture too, and the Tories are always pleased to promote family values, unless you’re an immigrant or poor.
Repealing the HRA would set the UK on a collision course with the European Court of Human Rights — leading to Britain’s departure from the Convention and Council of Europe.
Gove’s perverse zeal is in full force again as he attempts to do this within the first 100 days.
The Scots and Welsh are in disagreement with this attack, and there are some dissenting Tories already. It will be no easy task for Gove, although we keep being told that he likes an ideological challenge.
With a campaign already underway to the save the HRA we need to make sure Gove is shown to be as toxic for justice as he was for education.
The campaign to protect legal aid and our fundamental rights is not about middle class lawyers trying to protect wishy-washy justice. We fight to hold the state to account because we hate bullies. Now there is a new bully in town.
Luckily we have a blueprint for how to be beat this one. So thank you teachers, we will try our hardest to do as you did.
As barristers have just voted 96 percent in support of action over yet more cuts to legal aid, we will regroup, unite, organise and campaign so that we can also say, “Let’s just enjoy again, for a moment the departure of Michael Gove” before he exterminates us.
And by the way NUT, can we please have your “Gove Must Go” badges?