With a combination of legal and government experience, David Gauke appears to be well-placed to head the Ministry of Justice, writes Hannah Solel
Theresa May’s appointment of David Gauke as lord chancellor is, from a certain perspective, easily the most important of her latest government reshuffle. This is down to the crucial fact that he is the first legally-trained MP to assume the role since 2012, as well as being the first solicitor to take the post. Not only that but Gauke, 46, is also married to a professional support lawyer, Rachel Gauke, so he’s sure to have the ear of the profession in more ways than one.
Indeed, the Law Society, which represents more than 300,000 solicitors in England and Wales, ‘warmly welcomed’ the appointment of the Hertfordshire and South West MP, who entered parliament in 2005. ‘David Gauke will be inheriting the role at a time of challenge for the legal sector,’ noted Joe Egan, the Law Society president. ‘Priorities include promoting access to justice, ensuring the viability of legal aid and delivering an effective court modernisation programme. In addition, the lord chancellor will be a prominent voice as we seek to gain the best possible deal for the UK legal sector in the government’s negotiations for a new relationship with the European Union post-Brexit.’
Congratulations also came from the Bar Council, which represents all the barristers in England and Wales. ‘We look forward to working with the new Lord Chancellor to ensure access to justice is available to all,’ said Andrew Walker, Chair of the Bar.
What’s more Gauke follows a period of relative instability in the role: he’s the sixth lord chancellor appointed in the seven-and-a-half years since the Conservatives won a hung Parliament in 2010. Since Ken Clarke’s tenure ended in 2012, Chris Grayling (two years, eight months), Michael Gove (14 months) and Liz Truss (11 months) consecutively assumed the role with David Lidington appointed last June.
Gauke’s arrival at the Ministry of Justice also follows the marked hostility in the profession aimed at his predecessors, beginning with Grayling and particularly focused on Truss. The fact that neither Grayling, Gove, Truss nor Lidington had legal backgrounds did little to help either. Truss’s stint heading the ministry was notably blighted due to her poor handling of the notorious Daily Mail ‘enemies of the people’ story, which singled out three High Court judges adjudicating on Gina Miller’s Brexit case in November 2016.
Which means that along with legal aid cuts, court and prison reforms and judicial diversity just a handful of the key policy issues to contend with, Gauke undoubtedly has a mountain to climb. But his significant legal background is paired with a track record in other departments — ‘uncork the Gauke’ was the catchphrase when he stood in for George Osborne at the Treasury. So it seems Gauke is a capable individual, the question remains whether he is capable of achieving much needed reforms, such as to the law of divorce, that the law requires. For now, he deserves a fair wind.
Hannah Solel is a researcher and writer for Spear’s