Shine A Light

A victory for British Justice, but so much more to do

The government's botched assault on Legal Aid is unravelling, with more concessions made today. The remaining proposals still threaten the rule of law in England and Wales. See also Parliament resists government attack on British justice (again)

Gemma Blythe
5 September 2013

Justice secretary Chris Grayling didn't bother to attend the two House of Commons debates on his appalling proposals to demolish Legal Aid. He had wanted no debate at all. So it comes as no surprise that he should first announce changes to those plans this morning, not in Parliament, but in an exclusive interview, behind a paywall, in Rupert Murdoch's Times.

"I sat down with the Law Society and worked out what seemed to be a sensible compromise," the former PR man who bears the title Lord Chancellor confided to this morning's edition of The Times.

He ran through the detail of his climbdown:

For Criminal Legal Aid, price competitive tendering (PCT) has been scrapped. This is good news. Awarding contracts to the lowest bidder, condemned by barristers as "supermarket justice", would without doubt irrevocably damage the criminal justice system.

A small triumph in the grand scheme of things. It follows Grayling's concession two months ago that it was wrong to deprive clients at the police station the ability to choose their solicitor. That proposal was the most devastating to justice, and what this country represents.

Grayling still intends to slash lawyers' rates by 17.5 per cent. Handing George Osbourne £220 million, no matter how it comes, is “unavoidable”.  This is simply not feasible. It will mean the end for many legal aid firms, and a struggle for those that survive.

Yesterday Sadiq Khan, the Shadow Justice Secretary, said:

"Although I welcome reports the Tory-led government is about to abandon parts of its half-baked plans for criminal legal aid, I fear mark two will still deny access to justice to millions whilst reducing our justice system to a two-tier one with only the wealthy being able to secure a fair trial."

He went on:

"Chris Grayling needs to go much further and listen properly to experts and campaigners. Instead he has pushed ahead regardless with his botched proposals. I fear these plans are still unworkable and would lead to miscarriages of justice."

The Times article does not utter a word about Civil Legal Aid. Yet the government's proposals there present dangerous and unconstitutional attacks on the rule of law. No changes to civil legal aid will block the poorest from accessing justice.

Grayling has recently said he will plough on with civil legal aid reforms, despite not being in possession of the Joint Committee on Human Rights report, and regardless of that committee's expressed request.

No price competitive tendering for criminal legal aid is a victory for British Justice. Let’s not be hasty. There is much more worth fighting for.

This morning, Grayling released a Ministerial Statement announcing Publication of the Government's response to the consultation paper, and the revised proposals. [PDF] At midday he stood up in the House and announced his plans. Nothing new there for subscribers to The Times.

Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan asked "why The Times was considered a more important outlet for publicly announcing today's climb down rather than the proper place, here in Parliament?"

He went on:

"Today's statement by the Justice Secretary is confirmation that his plans, and they were HIS plans, really were half baked legally illiterate nonsense. The Justice Secretary has been forced to climb down and the sloppy way he goes about making policy has been exposed by experts in the field from judges to rape victims, from high street solicitors to the victims of miscarriages of justice who really do know what they are talking about."

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