In late July, former Prisons Minister, The Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC, was sworn in by Boris Johnson as the new Lord Chancellor. The fifth Lord Chancellor to be appointed in four years, his main interests include justice, education and disability issues.
The Law Society is encouraging members to write to him to address specific issues.
In a request published in early August, they issued a plea imploring people to reach out to Buckland. They wanted him to prioritise access to justice for all and back the Law Society’s campaigns to address the issues that exist within the legal aid and criminal justice systems.
A subsequent article drawn from the New Law Journal set out ten priorities for family law. These included reformations of the divorce process, halting the closure of courts, restoring legal aid funding and introducing a triage system for the backlog of cases involving children.
But how realistic is the belief that Buckland will focus on family law as a priority? Also, perhaps more pertinently, what changes can the family court expect to see under his leadership?
Business as usual, or time to change?
Buckland’s predecessor, David Gauke, was known for his commitment to championing family law. This was the same man who introduced the Domestic Abuse Bill and the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill. He also, according to one family law firm, “will be missed by many with an interest in family law”.
But will Buckland follow suit?
A passing glance at the new Lord Chancellor’s voting record reveals that he has previously voted against equal gay rights and same-sex marriage, and for restricting the scope of legal aid. However, the appointment of Buckland has, according to one columnist writing for the Law Gazette ‘been greeted with relief by many lawyers on the frontline’. And that’s because Buckland is a criminal law barrister as well as a former solicitor-general and justice minister. This means he is more than familiar with the challenges facing those working at the coalface of the British legal system.
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Buckland has, to date, allowed the Domestic Abuse Bill to progress, admitting that there is a “heck of a way to go” to help survivors of domestic abuse. However, he has a mammoth challenge on his hands - bringing the UK legal system up to task within a limited budget.
Our prisons are understaffed, overcrowded and have well-publicised problems with drug abuse, death and violence. They also need 3,000 extra places, which would come at a cost of £110m per year.
Meanwhile, Simon Davis, Law Society president, has described how “our criminal justice system is at breaking point.” He elaborates: “It simply does not have the resources to function effectively”.
In short, there are many areas in which UK law needs improvement - even without adding the uncertainty and friction of Brexit into the mix. Only time will tell if Buckland’s appointment will herald anything other than business as usual.
Cansford Labs works with a range of family law practitioners providing accredited drug testing services for the family law court. On 9 November 2019, we presented at the Family Law Bar Association annual conference.
For advice on using drug tests in a legal setting, please contact us.