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Justice Secretary Liz Truss 'could be stripped of Lord Chancellor role' after series of mishaps

Under pressure cabinet minister faces prospect of her role being split, sources suggest

Benjamin Kentish
Thursday 06 April 2017 14:40 BST
Liz Truss has faced criticism from Britain's most senior judge, Lord Thomas
Liz Truss has faced criticism from Britain's most senior judge, Lord Thomas (Reuters)

Cabinet ministers are reportedly urging Theresa May to sack Liz Truss from her role as Lord Chancellor after a series of embarrassing mistakes.

The change could see the Ministry of Justice broken up and the role of Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary split between two different ministers.

Ms Truss currently performs both jobs but her performance has been heavily criticised by senior members of the UK judiciary.

She was condemned for failing to defend high court judges after they were attacked in the right-wing press for ruling that Parliament should be given a say on Brexit. Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, called Ms Truss' response "constitutionally, absolutely wrong".

The role of Lord Chancellor, which includes responsibility for overseeing the application of law in government and speaking up for the judiciary, was previously held by a judge but Tony Blair turned the position into a political appointment in 2007.

The changes reportedly being considered by Downing Street could see the role of Lord Chancellor given to a Conservative MP with legal training, which Ms Truss does not have.

“A more traditional separation [of the department] is needed”, one cabinet minister told The Daily Telegraph.

"Whether that's a full break-up of the department or just a hiving off of the Lord Chancellor, this is being considered."

Another Government source told the paper: "The majority of backbenchers who are interested in these things - the lawyers and former ministers - and senior lawyers/judges agree the Blair reforms were wrong and the Lord Chancellor should be given to a senior lawyer freed from the tough prisons brief.

“The senior judiciary think the current role is an almost impossible one. It's the 10th anniversary of the MoJ and it isn't a well-functioning department."

Ms Truss was contradicted by Britain’s most senior judge last month after the Justice Secretary announced plans to “bring forward” new rules allowing pre-recorded cross-examination evidence to be used in cases relating to sexual offences.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, was forced to issue a clarification after saying Ms Truss’ announcement was “misleading”. The rules will relate only to children and other vulnerable witnesses, he said.

A separate pilot for victims in sex offence cases is being carried out but has not yet been extended.

Liz Truss says revoking of Article 50 wouldn't be a legal issue

Lord Thomas later told the Lords Constitution Committee: "I regret to say that we had to correct a serious misapprehension that had arisen as a result of what the ministry said at the end of last week about the roll-out, and the way we were proceeding with pre-recorded evidence.

"They misunderstood the thing completely. And so yesterday I had to write to all the judges togmail explain that, unfortunately, what the ministry had said was wrong.

A Whitehall source said: "A series of blunders - not all of them entirely the minister's fault - have highlighted the deep routed and at times absurd problems and conflicts within the department."

"The department is not fit for purpose and the recent cock ups go deeper than simply weak ministerial oversight. Splitting it up is something that is certainly being looked at.

However, a Government spokesman denied changes were being planned. “No such plan is under consideration. It isn’t going to happen”, he said.

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