So long, Ken, noble scourge of imaginary cats [updated – and hello Mr Grayling]
4 September 2012
Updated | As has been widely reported, Ken Clarke has left his post as Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor following a cabinet reshuffle.
The former-Justice Secretary has had an eventful time in his two years and three months in post. He has overseen enormous cuts to legal aid for which some will never forgive him, introduced a bill which will increase secret trials in the civil justice system, got into trouble over his comments on rape and ushered in a significant reform programme at the European Court of Human Rights.
But he will probably best be remembered, certainly by this blog, for an interview he gave following a speech by Home Secretary Theresa May at the Conservative Party Conference. You may remember it. It was about a cat. Which was apparently (but not really) responsible for a court’s failure to deport a man from the UK. Immediately following the speech, Ken Clarke told the Nottingham Post what he thought about May’s comments:
I sat and listened to Theresa’s speech and I’ll have to be very polite to Theresa when I meet her, but in my opinion she should really address her researchers and advisers very severely for assuring her that a complete nonsense example in her speech was true.”
He added: “I’m not going to stand there and say in my private opinion this is a terrible thing and we ought to get rid of the Human Rights Act.”
Mr Clarke said that the cat had nothing to do with allowing the individual mentioned in Ms May’s speech to remain in the UK.
He disagreed with Ms May’s criticism of the Human Rights Act, claiming it was “essential to a modern democracy” and that it would be “unwise” for the party to pledge its repeal.
“It’s not only the judges that all get furious when the Home Secretary makes a parody of a court judgement, our commission who are helping us form our view on this are not going to be entertained by laughable child-like examples being given,” said Mr Clarke.
“We have a policy and in my old-fashioned way when you serve in a Government you express a collective policy of the Government, you don’t go round telling everyone your personal opinion is different.”
Will Clarke’s successor be as outspoken as he was? More importantly, will there be anyone left in the major crime and justice posts to call out “complete nonsense” and “laughable child-like examples” of human rights gone wrong? Sadly, it seems unlikely. For his flaws, at least Clarke seemed to ‘get’ the wider issues around human rights, and called out ideological posturing when he saw it.
So long Ken. On balance, we will miss you.
Update – Chris Grayling is the new Justice Secretary. The best article I have read so far on his appointment is by Joshua Rozenberg, who worries that the first non-lawyer as Lord Chancellor may leave the door open for “mischief”.
I have searched in vain for any previous statements about the Human Rights Act by Mr Grayling, who is thought of as more right wing than Mr Clarke. From a legal standpoint, he did express some controversial views about a case involving Christian B&B owners who refused to give a double room to a gay couple. That case is currently being appealed to the Supreme Court. I expect some of the first questions asked of him may be in relation to that case and his current views.
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