To the relief of many lawyers, Liz Truss has been moved on from the job of Lord Chancellor, and replaced by David Lidington.
Apart from that relief, the overwhelming response of lawyers on Twitter to this news was: “David who?” You could almost hear them frantically Googling his name, which was certainly unknown to me.
The first piece of information that filtered through was that, for the fourth time in a row, we had a Lord Chancellor who was not a lawyer (prior to the unlamented Chris Grayling, who was appointed Lord Chancellor in 2012, the last non-lawyer Lord Chancellor was Lord Shaftesbury, who held the post from 1672 to 1673). Now, I realise that the Lord Chancellor does not have to be a lawyer, but it must surely be an advantage that the person being given that position already has a good knowledge of the law and the legal profession. It was not as if there were no suitable lawyer alternatives to Mr Lidington, such as Dominic Grieve, or even Ken Clarke, who was Lord Chancellor prior to the hapless Mr Grayling.
Anyway, we can at least console ourselves with the fact that Mr Lidington has the requisite intellect for a Lord Chancellor. As will no doubt be well known by now, he captained the team from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, that won the 1978 series of University Challenge and also the “champion of champions” series of the show in 2002. (Incidentally, his PhD thesis was entitled “The enforcement of the penal statutes at the court of the Exchequer c.1558-c.1576”, so he does have some legal education, although quite what use this will be to the job in hand is unclear.)
As for Mr Lidington’s career since those heady university days, there is nothing that obviously equips him for the job of Lord Chancellor save, of course, for his experience of machinations of government.
What, then, of his voting record, in relation to family law-related issues? Unfortunately, the news doesn’t exactly fill me with hope.
Firstly, Mr Lidington has generally voted against equal gay rights. For example, in 2004 he was absent for a vote on the Civil Partnership Bill and in 2013 he voted against allowing same sex couples to marry.
Secondly, Mr Lidington generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights. For example, last year he voted in favour of repealing the Human Rights Act 1998.
Thirdly, Mr Lidington generally voted for restricting the scope of legal aid. For example, in 2011 he voted in favour of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO), which abolished legal aid for most private law family matters, and in 2012, also in relation to LASPO, he voted against making legal aid available to children in a wider range of cases.
Otherwise, I have done a quick search to see what Mr Lidington had to say in parliament about family law-specific matters, and I haven’t really come up with much, and certainly not anything that tells us what his stance is on such important reforms as no fault divorce and property rights for cohabitees. However, I feel that his voting record gives a clue that he might not be in favour of these reforms.
Notwithstanding the above, Nigel Shepherd, Chair of Resolution, the association of family lawyers, said of Mr Lidington’s appointment on Twitter:
— Nigel Shepherd (@topfamilylawyer) June 11, 2017
Resolution is, of course, pressing for the introduction of no-fault divorce. Let us hope that Nigel’s optimism does not turn out to be misplaced.
I think the answer to the question posed by the title to this post is simply: “we don’t know”. We must of course remember that the Conservative party manifesto said very little about family law matters, so it is probably wrong to expect too much of Mr Lidington.
Of course if, as many predict, this new government is only going to last five minutes then all of the above will be academic…
Photo of David Lidington courtesy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.