Categorized | Criminal Justice, Legal Aid

Chris Grayling’s baby

Chris Grayling’s baby

Reducing the fees of barristers and solicitors should be an easy policy to sell in an era of austerity. But, as Chris Grayling’s minions attempt to spin highly misleading stories about ‘fatcat legal aid lawyers’, such has been the persistent ferocity of the united opposition to the ‘Transforming legal aid’ consultation that focus has fallen on the author of this lamentable scheme.

Justice secretary Chris Grayling is the first Lord Chancellor in modern times who is not a lawyer and he has provoked criticism that he does not understand the finely balanced traditions of British justice. The indecent haste of his timetable is suggestive of a minister determined to get his project through before the next election. Even with a clear run it will be a close thing.

This perhaps explains why, in such a thin year for legislation, these far-reaching changes, mainly to criminal legal aid, have not been included in a bill. Ministers expect to enact them through statutory instrument, though this could still rebound with legal challenge in such areas as client choice.

In a gaffe-strewn campaign, Grayling memorably defended the removal of client choice in an interview with ‘Law Gazette’s’ Catherine Baksi with the words: “I don’t believe that most people who find themselves in our criminal justice system are great connoisseurs of legal skills. We know the people in our prisons and who come into our courts often come from the most difficult and challenged backgrounds.”

As Baksi said, his remarks ignore the fact that many people who are arrested and face trial are not guilty of any offence, but were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sir Anthony Hooper QC said at the Friend’s House meeting “Defendants aren’t too thick to pick, contrary to the beliefs of the minister of injustice.”

While batting away inconvenient legal facts Grayling has made no bones about the purpose of the exercise. “At a time of major financial challenges, the legal sector cannot be excluded from the government’s commitment to getting better value for taxpayers’ money,” he says. The fiscal imperative is overriding, and “not saving the money is not an option.” He must implement the cuts demanded by the Treasury and agreed by his predecessor Kenneth Clarke.

Then he recently spoke at an event organised by TheCityUK, exhorting wealthy overseas litigants to use British courts. This is hypocrisy of the highest order, as he is simultaneously removing the ability of most British people to access the courts. Legal services contribute over £20bn to the UK’s GDP each year – 1.6% of the total. If the Treasury is earning all that money from legal services, why is he not fighting for a percentage of that money for his department?

In one area he has achieved outstanding success. In an unbelievably clumsy attempt to drive a wedge between barristers and solicitors he succeeded in uniting all criminal lawyers, regardless of firm size or legal background, in an unprecedented manner. The eloquence and harmony of the opposition has also been an advert for the depth of exceptional advocacy within the criminal defence profession, a reminder of one of the many things that could be lost if Grayling gets his way unchanged.

In contrast, the MoJ road shows demonstrated that changes with a fundamental and damaging impact on the criminal justice system and the rule of law have been designed by civil servants who lack understanding of how the system operates and are ill equipped to defend them, under the direction of an ill-informed secretary of state. John Finnemore, in a recent ‘Now Show’, gave a brilliant exposition of the miserable scheme, made all the more valuable because it will have reached millions of listeners. As he concluded, “all the work of that tit Grayling.”

This post was written by:

- who has written 460 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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One Response to “Chris Grayling’s baby”

  1. Peter Jones says:

    My comments in relation to this article focus on the appalling behaviour of the Law Society. After calm(ish) reflection and observation of Chris Grayling’s performance before the Justice Committee, they have got it so wrong this time.

    Grayling has been allowed off the political hook. By giving him an ‘alternative’ proposal a massive wedge has been driven into the fragile alliance with the Bar. For solicitors the outcome will be carnage for many long established firms.

    It beggars belief that the ‘alternative’ proposal could have been put to Grayling without further consultation (or at least a vote) with those of us at the coal face of criminal justice. The Law Society has done little more than show itself to be unrepresentative and prepared to act without a mandate from rank and file solicitors.

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