Michael Gove’s tenure as Justice Secretary has been notable for U-turns on the most controversial things done by his predecessor, Chris Grayling. At Justice Questions in the Commons today, Gove confirmed another policy reversal to MPs which emerged last week: the criminal courts charge. Since April, the charge meant that convicted criminals had to pay £150 - £1,200 towards to cost of their cases.
Some felt the criminal courts charge was unfair, acting as a perverse incentive to plead guilty, and 50 magistrates resigned in protest. Gove explained the government's decision:
'The government has listened carefully to the concerns which have been raised about the criminal courts charge and in the light of those concerns, I have decided to pause the imposition of the charge while the wider review is carried out'.
Tulip Siddiq, the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, used this opportunity to point out this is another example of Gove reversing Grayling’s decisions:
'May I take this opportunity to congratulate the secretary of state for scrapping yet another proposal that was put forward by his predecessor but may I remind him he was Chief Whip at the time and did vote for the policy'.
To which Gove retorted that the Tories had fewer whipping issues under his tenure than Labour is currently experiencing:
'I’m grateful to the honourable lady for her kind words and also reminding the house that while I was not an unprecedented success as chief whip, I did manage to vote with the government for the majority of that time'.
Although it is rumoured that Grayling is going to be kicked out of the Cabinet at the next reshuffle, it is still quite embarrassing that his successor is taking such a different policy direction in a short space of time. But it's one that is going down well in both in the Commons and within the legal community — as the blogger David Allen Green has pointed out. Although Gove may not be acting as bombastically at Justice compared to his time as Education Secretary, it appears he is being just as effective.