Categorized | Criminal Justice

Judicial review sought

Judicial review sought

A High Court challenge to the government’s controversial legal aid reforms was heard on 8 and 9 September. The judicial review is sought by the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA). The action is funded by contributions in excess of £100,000 from members and £45,000 from the Law Society.

The changes being introduced provide for cuts of 17.5% in criminal court fees and reduce the number of duty solicitor contracts for attending police stations and courts in England and Wales from 1,600 to 525.

The groups say the process used by the lord chancellor before taking the decision to proceed with the reforms “fell short of even the a normal standard of procedural fairness.” They argue that he failed to disclose two reports on the financial state of criminal firms and the impact of the reforms before the end of the consultation. The failure, they say, deprived consultees of the opportunity to make “pertinent comments.”

While the judicial review challenge is not on the merits of the reforms themselves, the CLSA and LCCSA argue that these will cause very serious harm to the criminal justice system. The reforms are designed to reduce the number of criminal legal aid firms from around 1,600 to 525. The practitioner groups argue they will put many firms out of business, resulting in ‘advice deserts’ in parts of the country. It is estimated that up to 600,000 people have lost the ability to access civil legal aid.

Grayling was accused of personal involvement in suppressing evidence against the cuts and creating much of the resulting ‘unfairness’ himself. In an extraordinary criticism of a Cabinet minister, Jason Coppel QC for the claimants told the High Court that the challenge was not merely against the office of the lord chancellor but the present incumbent.

Coppel said it was ‘particularly striking’ that Grayling had become ‘personally involved’ in the process and had created much of the ‘unfairness’ himself. “The claimants have a right to expect procedural fairness. What they got was a caricature of fairness: empty assurances, bluff and bully, divide and rule, fronted by a senior member of the government”, he said.

Coppel said that the Law Society was ‘manipulated’ into agreeing to the changes, after it was threatened with alternative savings that the MoJ “had already decided not to do.” He added: “The lord chancellor personally misled [criminal solicitors] about the matter of the independent research which had been commissioned to assist him to make decisions. He personally refused to disclose that research, it would seem, for no other reason than that it might provide ammunition to critics of his proposals.”

Allegations that a bullying lord chancellor acted improperly in his dealings with the Law Society over criminal legal aid reforms were rebutted by his barrister. James Eadie QC said there was ‘no impropriety’ in the way Grayling had acted.

At the end of the hearing Mr Justice Burnett said he hoped to have judgment ready ‘as soon as possible’ and ‘all being well’ by the end of the month. The full text of ‘Amended Statement of Facts and Grounds’ can be found at: http://www.clsa.co.uk/assets/files/general/Claimants-skeleton-04.09.14-references-amended.pdf

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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