A former criminal defence solicitor has been given the task of dealing with criminal legal aid policy at the Ministry of Justice after Prime Minister Liz Truss completed her reshuffle.
Junior ministerial posts were left unfilled during the period of national mourning for the Queen’s death but the team of five ministers under Lord Chancellor and justice secretary Brandon Lewis, a barrister by qualification, has now been confirmed.
There is only one minister of state – the rung below the cabinet – in the shape of Rachel Maclean. A businesswoman by background, she is a former junior Home Office minister whose responsibilities at the MoJ include criminal law, mental capacity and the Office of the Public Guardian.
The others are parliamentary under-secretaries. Gareth Johnson was a criminal defence solicitor at Kent firm Thomas Boyd Whyte when elected for the Dartford constituency in 2010. He continued to work there for five hours a month until 2016, according to the register of MPs’ interests.
A former member of the justice select committee, he said back in 2010 that he had over 20 years of working within the criminal justice system, having also worked as a magistrates’ court clerk.
As well as criminal legal aid, his brief includes the courts and tribunals – back in 2016, he opposed the MoJ’s decision to close Dartford Magistrates’ Court – being the MoJ lead on tackling illegal migration, and acting as the Commons shadow for Lord Bellamy’s portfolio.
Lord Bellamy KC is the only MoJ minister from Boris Johnson’s time to retain his role and the only one in the House of Lords. But the department said he would not speak to criminal legal aid policy from the despatch box.
This is unsurprising, given that the core recommendation of his independent criminal legal aid review last year – conducted before he became a minister – was that there needed to be an “immediate” cash injection of £135m, a 15% rise in fees.
He described it as “the minimum necessary as the first step in nursing the system of criminal legal aid back to health after years of neglect”.
The MoJ is not delivering this – hence the current criminal barrister strike – placing Lord Bellamy in a difficult position.
We have asked the MoJ to confirm who will speak in his place on criminal legal aid.
Lord Bellamy’s other responsibilities include human rights, judicial and tribunal policy, civil and family justice – including legal aid – and lawtech.
He practised from Monckton Chambers from 1970 to 1992 before becoming a judge at the European Court of Justice and then setting up what is now the Competition Appeal Tribunal. In 2007, he became a senior consultant at City giant Linklaters and later chairman of its global competition practice in 2011. In 2020 he rejoined Monckton Chambers.
Mike Freer, a former management consultant and banker, has been given the legal services market brief. He was previously minister for exports and minister for equalities. He is also responsible for judicial review, coroners and international matters.
The final minister is Rob Butler, a one-time journalist and then communications consultant. He will lead on prisons and probation, and youth justice.