Liz Truss, Leeds and Justice

News|July 22nd 2016

It would be wrong for me not to record the “swearing in” ceremony yesterday at the High Court of Liz Truss, our first female Lord Chancellor. Wrong for a number of reasons.

Not only because she is demonstrably a tough hardworking woman, mother and wife now immersed in the law but because she also hails from Leeds, my own home city, and she grew up nearby in Roundhay near the beautiful Roundhay Park where my siblings and I went to play.

I used to live on Street Lane in Leeds, which runs past the entrance to the park. I attended Talbot Road School, the local primary school, from where I passed my 11-Plus exam (an age give away if ever there was one!). I was due to attend Roundhay High School as it then was, except my parents had saved up to send me to Leeds Girls High School instead.

Liz Truss went to Roundhay School, which by then had become a comprehensive school. It is where the Leeds Rhinos Foundation held a recent girls’ rugby league tournament, which was sponsored by Stowe Family Law.

You can’t miss Roundhay School when you visit Roundhay Park and the adjoining Soldiers’ Field. It stands there, an imposing presence on the horizon and has special memories for me because my parents latterly lived in the Park and my father attended Roundhay Boys school too. And when the entire area was being rejuvenated and it was all centred around the famous Edwardian “Oakwood Clock” which was in urgent need of repair, my husband and I helped with the funding. There is now a plaque on the clock dedicated to the memory of our parents and to the great City of Leeds.

So of course I would have a soft spot for Liz Truss, for those reasons alone even if she hadn’t specifically mentioned in her speech yesterday spending time at the Leeds Crown Court like I did too but which made me decide as a trainee, never ever to deal with criminal law.

Historically, the Lord Chancellor was Keeper of the Great Seal, and Minister to the King eventually becoming known as “Keeper of the King’s Conscience”. Churchmen dominated the Chancellorship until the 16th Century including Cardinal Wolsey and Sir Thomas More. But then, like now, a change took place so that thereafter laymen held office. These included Lord Shaftesbury but after him they all were lawyers. Tony Blair’s government can claim the dubious honour of irreparably altering this great office of state, arguably diminishing it, and the first non-lawyer of the new era Lord Chancellor, was Chris Grayling, someone I have already said a lot about, followed by Michael Gove and thereafter Liz Truss.

When a non-lawyer was first appointed to the office, and even before he had done anything to criticise him for, I thought it was a mistake. But I can understand why it happened. The justice system was going to be slashed to bits, legal aid would be removed and a non-lawyer presumably would do the Treasury’s work rather better than a modern day Sir Thomas More with a conscience. And so it proved. His replacement Michael Gove was generally held in much higher esteem, but politics and time stand still for no man: and now we have Ms Truss.

So what will she be like as Lord Chancellor?

It’s hard to imagine her having the same deep affection for the law and the justice system as those of us who are literally steeped in it, charged with doing our best throughout our adult lives for those who seek our help. But she did speak about upholding the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in her speech yesterday.

She spoke about the rule of law as fundamental to civilisation and a safeguard against “extremism oppression and dictatorship.” Furthermore she made it clear to an audience of the most senior judges in the country who knew it already and are unafraid to say so – that the separation of powers keeps the executive in check. That’s good to hear, coming from a politician and non-lawyer both for this country now and in the future. Compare and contrast the tragedies of unchecked dictatorship being played out in so many other countries.

She spoke of her pride in the English legal system, the best in the world because we have “an open and trusted legal system.” Amen to that too – as I’ve made the same points several times in my posts on London being the divorce capital of the world.

She also spoke about the need for as many people (not just men drawn from one very tiny pool) as is possible, to join the legal profession and to become members of the judiciary. She supports the reform and modernisation of the courts and tribunals which will be high on her agenda.  That’s all good to hear too.

Overall she sees a modern, thriving legal system which needs more lawyers and judges and operates under the rule of law which shaped society in the past and will continue to do so in the present.

It wasn’t a long speech, it wasn’t boring, and it said a great deal. True it didn’t specifically mention access to justice by those who can’t afford lawyers but I’m pretty sure this must be on her mind. It wouldn’t otherwise be in keeping with the rest of what she said.

So…go on. Criticise me for being too partisan to a woman from Leeds. Maybe I am or maybe I’m not, but time will tell whether our first lady Lord Chancellor merits the confidence our Prime Minister clearly already has in her. She carries with her the best wishes of all of us who work within this tremendous justice system which is too, quite correctly, the envy of the world. I wish her well.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. Andrew says:

    You can always tell folk from Yorkshire – but it’s no good because they don’t listen!
    (So I was taught as a child in the wonderful county of Durham. And let me tell you that recent research has conclusively established that the monkey WAS a French spy.)
    Never mind, Marilyn, you are nearly a Northerner!

  2. Stitchedup says:

    Male dominated this, male dominated that… Is this all we’re going to hear??? Sorry, but I know for a fact that the female sex dominate family law practice and also dominate the local government departments that deal with family law issues and also dominate the other agencies and organisations that deal with family law issues and family issues in general. If this woman is as good as you think she is she will have the impartiality to address this and bring our legal system into line so that it is fair and genuinely in the interest of children. In other words, cleanse it of feminist political BS and bring solicitors,the police, cps and judiciary into line to stop the systematic asset stripping and destruction of families and stop the criminalisation of men for petty, feminist inspired, BS reasons. It is not in the interests of the child to forbid parents from discussing family matters and criminalising a parent for talking. Unless a genuine, proven threat or the like has been made that amounts to a genuine possibility of genuine violence then it really has sod all to do with any of you. Article 8 is meant to protect a persons right to a private family life, which includes the right to disagree, squabble, argue, and row with your partner particularly in times of stress. So keep your snouts out please and stop fuelling the fire to line your pockets and strip the children of their inheritance!!!… I needed that, I feel better now

  3. Barrington Black says:

    My parents were also able to save the money for me to go to Leeds Girls High School, but could not raise the sum for the operation which would have been necessary, so I had to rely on the Scholarship to Roundhay, achieved through the efforts of the fine teachers at Harehills.
    In those days there was Roundhay.. the boys department, we wore green and played Rugby, and the girls department, they wore black for reasons best known to themselves.
    I didn’t come across many of the girls, because I didn’t catch the tram at Oakwood, where both schools would congregate, my parents urged me to walk across the Soldiers Field to the tram stop there, as the grass did not wear out my shoe leather so quickly. I am also glad that Marilyn paid for the clock to be repaired, many is the time I was late for school because of its deception.
    A description of days at Roundhay in the mid forties appears in my recent best seller ” Both Sides of the Bench”, available at Waterstones, Smiths and Daunts, and for the paupers at Amazon.

    But what about Liz Truss, well now she has got her head around the English Cheese situation it should be but a short step to absorb all that is required to follow in the footsteps of Grayling.. I separate him from Gove who was a much more considerate person. ( Did you see him in the debate last week.. someone who actually knew how to debate, deal with points, and not be a slave to a piece of paper thrust in front of him by an “advisor” like all the six form debaters who came into Parliament in 2015..believe me, he will be back)

    But is not the whole point of what has happened to reflect, not upon whether tis a she or a he who plonks their derriere on the woolsack, but that there needs once again to be a division.
    A Minister of Justice who runs the Prisons, the Courts and Tribunals is one thing, but the person in Charge of and responsible for the selection of Judges is surely someone who has an idea of what is going on from the benefit of experience and not the need to feather their own career up the greasy pole;

    If you agree with what I am getting at, just give a nod and a wink… oh and if you have any influence, a tap on the shoulder..

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Judge Black!
      Brilliant! Please keep commenting love your sense of humour.
      Hope all is well with you and yours
      Best Wishes,

  4. JamesB says:

    I thought shoes were made of plastic, but perhaps I am not as posh as I thought I was.

  5. JamesB says:

    I am pleased that the senior person (not sure if I care if she is a woman or not) is from a comprehensive.

    I went to a comprehensive and didn’t sit the 11 plus and thought at the time it was dodgy. Why was it dodgy?

    1. Because it had dodgy catchment area.
    2. Because local rich people tutored children to take voluntary 11 plus to go to Berkshire Grammar school or scholarships
    3. Went private

    Abolish all Grammar schools and have streaming to enable the top sets in comprehensives to be decent and people like this Lady to do well from them and society to have more social opportunity. Think is an issue from what I hear on the news about lack of social movement. Education helps.

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