In the Media

Justice secretary Clarke goes in reshuffle

PUBLISHED September 4, 2012

Tuesday 04 September 2012 by John Hyde

Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke has become the highest profile casualty of David Cameron's first major reshuffle since coming to office.

The 72-year-old, who has held seven different cabinet positions since 1982, will be moved to minister without portfolio advising on economic issues. There has yet to be any announcement on possible replacements for the justice secretary role, or whether it will continue to include the position of lord chancellor. Iain Duncan Smith, secretary of state for work and pensions, is the favourite to move to the justice department.

Clarke's two years at the Ministry of Justice have been dominated by the requirement to cut £2bn from its £9bn annual budget. As part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, which largely comes into force from next April, legal aid was cut for most civil cases to save £350m a year.

Clarke (pictured) defended the cuts, arguing that spending on legal aid was higher in England and Wales than anywhere else in the world. The Jackson reforms to civil litigation, following the report launched by Clarke's predecessor Jack Straw, were also a key element of the past two years.

From next April, referral fees will be banned for all personal injury cases, whilst the reforms will also remove the recoverability of success fees and after-the-event insurance from losing defendants.

But Clarke's attempts to reduce expenditure on prisons will be for many the abiding memory of his time in government. A proposal to reduce sentences by up to 50% for an early guilty plea upset many on the right of the Conservative party, and the controversy was compounded when Clarke was forced to clarify comments made in an interview which appeared to suggest that some rapes were less serious than others.

In what was seen as a defeat for the justice secretary, Cameron later stated that cutting sentences by half would be 'too lenient'. While Clarke's critics accused him of too soft on crime, prison population has remained high throughout his tenure, with last week's total of 86,708 just two fewer than the same time last year.

Other reforms during Clarke's period in office included making squatting a criminal offence, reform of community sentences and launching an overhaul of the family justice system. He also oversaw the implementation of the Legal Services Act, which allowed non-lawyers or private equity investors a stake in law firms.