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Following the news that Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will form a coalition government, Downing Street has announced that Ken Clarke will be appointed as Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor.
The former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer was expected to be appointed as Business Secretary after holding the role of business spokesman for the Conservatives in opposition. However, as part of the coalition agreement, the Liberal Democrats finance spokesman Vince Cable was appointed to the role.
The appointment of the pro-European MP for Rushcliffe may cause some unease amongst right-wing members of the Conservative party as he has previously stated that he is opposed to his party's policy of repealing the Human Rights Act 1998 and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights.
Mr Clarke, 69, studied law at Cambridge and was called to the Bar in 1963 by Gray's Inn and was appointed a QC in 1980. He will replace Jack Straw as the head of the Ministry of Justice and will be responsible for overseeing legal aid reforms. His previous experience in the Treasury may be relevant in resolving the ongoing problems with the legal aid budget.
In October 2009, the Ministry of Justice introduced new fee structures for family legal aid that replaced hourly rates with fixed fees. In response, family lawyers warned that the changes would lead to mean a mass exodus of lawyers from family legal aid and undermine access to justice for ordinary families. The number of family legal aid practices in the country has already dramatically dropped, from 4,500 in 2000 to 2,800 in 2006.
Prior to the coalition negotiations, Dominic Grieve QC had been the front-runner for the role of Justice Secretary but was today appointed as the new Attorney-General. Mr Grieve said during the election campaign that the Conservatives will "go back to the drawing board" and would conduct a legal aid review to explore new funding options and examine ways to relieve pressure on the legal aid fund.
Mr Grieve added: "We have got to do something completely new. Our intention is to do that by bringing in new funding streams." Possible new funding options include a contingency legal aid fund; before-the-event insurance; and a version of the French scheme whereby money from solicitors' client accounts is pooled and funding is gained from the interest generated.
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