Categorized | Criminal Justice, Legal Aid

Legal Aid Judicial Review

Legal Aid Judicial Review

A last-ditch challenge to the lord chancellor’s legal aid reforms was thrown out by the High Court on Tuesday. The Law Society and practitioner groups are seeking an appeal.

Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Cranston heard challenges last month by the Law Society and practitioner groups the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) to Chris Grayling’s decision to press ahead with two-tier contracts for criminal legal aid.

Laws LJ said in the judgment: “I should conclude without hesitation that the [reform] scheme is proportionate. It is accepted on all hands that consolidation in the legal aid market is needed, if legal aid is to be provided at reduced fees. It may reasonably be concluded that this is a proper way to achieve it.”

He added: “The issue concerning the applicable standard of review was important and merited a full debate between the parties. For that reason I would grant permission to seek judicial review in both sets of proceedings. But for all the reasons I have given, I would dismiss the substantive application.”

The Law Society today announced that it would appeal the decision. Andrew Caplen said: “If the government’s plans proceed, large areas of the country could be left without legal representation, which is why we are applying for permission to appeal the decision. We will continue to campaign for an effective, publicly funded defence system to prevent the risk of a sharp increase in miscarriages of justice.”

Commenting on the outcome, Bill Waddington, chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and Jonathan Black, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association said: “The impact on many of our members if this tender process goes ahead will be devastating. Many firms have been considering their future in the new legal aid duty contracts market and can not see a way forward. This will be a further nail in the coffin for access to justice for vulnerable people…Our battle will continue and we have every confidence in future success. Our legal team have said there are strong grounds for an appeal and both associations and the Law Society will be applying for leave to do so without delay. “

The duty contracts tender remains frozen for the present. Lord Justice Laws refused permission to appeal but extended the stay until 16:00 next Friday (27 February). This was to enable the claimants to get the matter into the Court of Appeal. The focus will now be on an application to the Court of Appeal to get an extended stay from them pending the appeal. The Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association are leading on the injunction.

The likely timeframe for the rolled-up permission/appeal hearing remains before Easter, although, as with an injunction application, a lot depends on the Court of Appeal listings. The Law Society do not yet know when the tender process will restart, and will keep members informed and issue guidance as soon as possible.

Delay has always been an important tactic and as long as the profession thinks there is a chance that either the scheme will still fall over or fall victim to the election because it wasn’t implemented in time, they will be more confident about their ability to stay in practice. The speed with which the Law Society / CLSA / LCCSA has moved to draft its application to the Court of Appeal indicates that it will continue to do everything in its power to delay and confound.

The Labour Party’s confirmation that, if in government, it would not press ahead with the unworkable two tier scheme, that it would put on hold further cuts pending a review and that it would engage with the profession in seeking workable justice reforms, would then be put to the test if they did form the next government.

Royal-courts-of-justice” by MykReeve at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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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