Categorized | Criminal Justice, Legal Aid

Government consultation process ruled ‘so unfair as to result in illegality’

Government consultation process ruled ‘so unfair as to result in illegality’

Mr Justice Burnett was as good as his word. At the end of the judicial review hearing he said he hoped to have judgment ready ‘as soon as possible’ and ‘all being well’ by the end of the month. Last Friday saw his judgement.

And what a judgement. Referring to two economic reports, one from Otterburn Consulting and the other from accountants KPMG, he said: “In the context, in particular, of a decision which would so profoundly affect the way in which the market in criminal legal aid operates, indeed pose a threat to the continued existence of many practices, in my judgment it was indeed unfair to refuse to allow those engaged in the consultation process to comment upon the two reports.

“The broad indications given in the consultation paper of the considerations which would determine the outcome did not, in my judgment, enable consultees meaningfully to respond. Something clearly did go wrong. The failure was so unfair as to result in illegality.”

Mr Justice Burnett referred to the fact that the Government is committed to keeping the process under review. He said: “If it turns out that too few contracts are let, with damage in particular to the availability of advice and representation for defendants in criminal proceedings, the problem can be put right in the next contract round. That would be at least four years away and so provide no comfort for solicitors who in the meantime had seen their firms close, had lost their jobs altogether or been forced to look for new work. The decision to let 525 Duty Provider Work contracts will be quashed.”

“In the light of my conclusions I grant permission to apply for judicial review” he ruled.

The decision is a significant setback for Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, who was in charge of negotiations with the legal profession that led to 17.5% cuts in fees and reductions in the number of duty contracts for solicitors to attend courts and police stations. Government plans for cutting criminal legal aid by £220 million have been thrown into confusion.

LCCSA president Nicola Hill said: “This is a great day for justice. It shows that no one, not even the justice secretary and lord chancellor, Mr Grayling, is above the rule of law.” Bill Waddington, chairman of the CLSA, said that it was “a damming indictment of the lord chancellor…. The head of our world-renowned justice system must act fairly, instead he has attempted to enact a plan that is manifestly unfair, limiting access to justice and shredding the treasured principle of equality before the law”

New Law Society President Andrew Caplen said: “Under my presidency, the Law Society will do all in its power to support criminal legal aid solicitors and to defend the rule of law. I will engage fully with our members to draw further attention to the plight of criminal law practitioners and the threat to the working of the criminal justice system that has been highlighted by today’s ruling.”

However the first tranche of 8.75% fee cuts, introduced in March, will remain in place. An MoJ spokesperson said: “This judicial review was not wholly successful – the claimants failed in their challenge to the fee cut. However, the judgment has raised some technical issues about the consultation process, which we are carefully considering.” Do they appeal the decision or mount another consultation exercise?

I strongly recommend that you read the judgement. It shines light into many corners, including the disagreements within the profession. The full text can be found at:
http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/the-queen-on-the-application-of-lccsa-clsa-v-the-lord-chancellor.pdf

Picture from https://www.flickr.com/photos/conservatives/with/3928928674/

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 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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