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MoJ Ministers and Civil Justice Reform

Blogs19/07/2016

What a whirlwind it has been - hard to believe that it has only been three and a half weeks since the EU referendum.

We now have a new Prime Minister and Cabinet. There is a completely different line up at the Ministry of Justice - Liz Truss at the helm of a team comprising Sir Oliver Heald, Sam Gyimah and Phillip Lee.

The question insurers want the answer to is: who will take on Lord Faulks’ civil justice brief? At the present moment this is uncertain.* And whoever it is will be crucial to the approach taken to the Autumn Statement reforms. There is a lot that we do not know. So – what do we know?

Well, all four of them seem to be politicians unafraid of change to the status quo. Liz Truss – before her recent appointment - was widely considered to be a rising star of the Conservative Party and was named “Minister to Watch” in the Spectator awards in 2012. Sir Oliver Heald combines noteworthy legal and political experience – he is a QC and was elected as an MP in 1992. Sam Gyimah has shown himself to be ambitious – he has already been touted by colleagues as being a future Cabinet minister. And Phillip Lee has been a member of his local Conservative Association since 1992; he is also a qualified doctor, continuing to work part-time as a GP.

But what do we know about these politicians’ attitude to civil justice reform?

Interestingly, there have already been some clues of the likely approach. Sam Gyimah tweeted he would “help drive progressive reform of the justice system”; the next day, Truss tweeted that she was delighted to welcome her “excellent, reform minded colleagues” to the Ministry of Justice. This seems to be a strong indication of the approach that this team might take to justice reform going forward.

And more specifically, it’s worth noting that Liz Truss and Sam Gyimah both voted in accordance with the Coalition Government’s pledge to implement the Jackson reforms. Furthermore, in a Westminster debate on personal injury claims in November 2015, Sir Oliver Heald called for the SRA to do more to combat fraud, stating that it is a “systemic problem of which that authority should be fully aware of and perhaps look into”.

So maybe we shouldn’t assume that Lord Faulks has left and taken the Autumn Statement reforms with him. Summer recess is almost upon us but that doesn’t necessarily draw a line in the sand; it is more conventional for Government consultations to be published when Parliament is sitting but this is not an absolute rule.

And it is important to remember the political motivator behind these reforms – the £40-£50 off each motor insurance policy. It is notable, in Theresa May’s first address as Prime Minister on the doorstep of No 10 last Wednesday that she recognises working people “worry about the cost of living”.

Brexit means Brexit and that is without doubt the main focus, but we can still count on some business as usual activity from this new Government. Initial indicators on the likely attitude to the Autumn Statement reforms are more positive than not; whether or not this means that they will come to fruition remains to be seen.

* - Lord Keen has, as of 21 July, taken over Lord Faulks' civil justice brief.