The fight against legal aid cuts is not yet over

The fight against legal aid cuts is not yet over

Ken Clarke’s Ministry of Justice faces a legal challenge over its controversial plan to
scrap legal aid for victims of clinical negligence. The charity Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) has issued legal proceedings for a judicial review of the decision.

AvMA Chief Executive Peter Walsh said: “Scrapping legal aid for clinical negligence is completely irrational whatever way you look at it, as well as grossly unfair. Ken Clarke’s department might save a little money, but the cost will simply be heaped on the NHS. Some of the most vulnerable people in society injured by negligent treatment at the hands of a State body will be denied access to justice.”

The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill may have been steamrollered through the Commons but the action of AvMA is but one instance of continued resistance. The Commons proceedings have become close up and personal. Jonathan Djanogly is the justice minister piloting the plans to cut legal aid and curb payouts, which could benefit the insurance industry to the tune of £1bn a year. The ‘Guardian’ reports that Djanogly has investments worth at least £250,000 in companies with insurance arms, and that his brother in law also stands to gain. Labour’s justice spokesman, Andy Slaughter, has written to cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell calling for an investigation into Djanogly. Slaughter points to conflict of interest claims given that the minister has neither resigned or removed himself from discussions from which he could personally profit.

The Sound Off for Justice campaign has revealed that the family of Milly Dowler asked the Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg to stop the “unjust and unfair” legislation that will significantly weaken the ‘no win no fee’ mechanisms they used to fight their case against News International. Writing an open letter to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, the Dowlers said that they could not have reached a settlement without a ‘no win, no fee’ agreement. Their letter concluded: “We are sure that you do not want to go down in history as the prime minister who took rights away from ordinary people so that large companies could print whatever they like and break the law without [anyone] being able to challenge them.” Des Hudson, Chief Executive of the Law Society said: “After all they have been through we welcome – and are humbled by – the intervention of the Dowler family in this debate. They have succeeded in making it clear to the Prime Minister that it is ordinary families with terrible life challenges that will be impacted the most. They will be the losers. As a society we need to protect them and their access to justice.”

Dominic Grieve, the attorney general, has entered the arena. He attended a national meeting hosted by the Bar Council and the Family Law Bar Association on 17 September on “The Legal Aid Bill – What is the future for Family Justice.” According to Joshua Rozenberg, writing in the ‘Guardian’, as a result of that meeting Grieve is to tell Ken Clarke that the lord chancellor’s proposals will clog up the courts with unrepresented litigants. Grieve was told that the government’s legal aid reforms would result in 54,000 fewer people a year being represented in the family courts, affecting 68,000 children at the centre of traumatic family breakdown. Rozenberg concludes: “Without lawyers, courts become slower and more expensive. If Grieve can persuade the lord chancellor that his reforms will cost money rather than save it, he will have well served the interests of justice.”

Now the battleground moves to the Lords. According to the ‘Law Gazette’, Liberal Democrat Lord Carlile of Berriew believes there is enough support from all sides to push for changes. He said that there are enough people in the Lords who feel strongly about some of these issues to “fight the good fight”, although he regretted that the Lords may end up scrutinising the bill in more detail than the Commons. His hope is that the House of Lords may yet drive through significant amendments to the legal aid and civil litigation reforms.

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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