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Thursday 25 June 2015

Gove Fiddles While Rome Burns

[Update at end of post]

What, one might have been tempted to ask in the wake of the “delay” to that much-hyped “British Bill Of Rights”, was Michael “Oiky” Gove doing to occupy his time at the Department of Justice (DoJ)? The Independent had the answer: “Lord Chancellor Michael Gove has been accused of ‘patronising’ his civil servants with an eccentric set of grammar rules and pet peeves designed to shape departmental correspondence”. Really? Do tell.
Instructions posted on the Ministry of Justice intranet after he was appointed Lord Chancellor last month warn officials never to use the word ‘impact’ as a verb and to spell out contractions so that ‘doesn’t’ becomes ‘does not’. The bureaucrats are also told that ‘the phrases best-placed and high-quality are joined with a dash, very few others are’. Mr Gove also disapproves of ‘unnecessary’ capitalisations and the word ‘ensure’, which his civil servants must always replace with ‘make sure’”.

The impression might have been given that the DoJ had nothing to occupy its Minister. However (“Oiky” hates the use of “however” to start a sentence, so I will), it has become clear as the week has gone on that there is much that Gove might otherwise be doing, and that picking over grammar rules is the equivalent of fiddling while Rome Burns.
For starters, successive rounds of cuts imposed in the rates for taking on legal aid work have led barristers and solicitors on Merseyside to decide that enough is enough: in a joint statement yesterday, they told thatIf the 1st July cut is to be implemented then Solicitors will have sustained a 17.5% cut over a fifteen month period in a profession that has not seen an increase to rates in over twenty years”. And there was more.

The message being delivered by individual firms was that they had made an assessment of the cuts that are to be introduced on the 1st July 2015 and in January 2016 and that they will not undertake work at this rate. The Bar confirmed that they would not be prepared to undertake any work on any case with a Rep Order dated on or after Wednesday 1st July in recognition of the damage that these cuts will have upon the Independent Bar”. What, one wonders, is Gove going to do about that?
Dispatching coach-loads of legal eagles to break the action is not on the cards; indeed, other areas may decide to follow suit. There is also the ongoing interpreters’ boycott: “Over 2,300 qualified & experienced court interpreters represented by Professional Interpreters for Justice (PI4J) boycotting MoJ contracts” they reminded everyone yesterday.

Gove’s earlier intervention, telling the legal profession that they should do more pro bono work, when the skills of the better-off often do not match the demand, will have done nothing to stave off action that could see much of the courts system paralysed within a few weeks. But all concerned can reassure themselves that, whatever solids are hitting the fan, that all correspondence emanating from “Oiky’s” office is grammatically correct.

A disaster at Education, a disaster as Chief Whip. There is no end to “Oiky’s” talents.

[UPDATE 1810 hours: as the Law Society Gazette has noted, the dissent over new legal aid rates has now spread to Cardiff, suggesting that any deal Gove may think he made with those at the top of the professions is not holding. The suggestion of doing more pro bono work may not have helped matters.

Clearly, the brilliance of Michael "Oiky" Gove knows no bounds]

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