The government’s plans for introducing £220 criminal legal aid cuts have been put on hold following a high court ruling in which it was held that the Ministry of Justice consultation process was illegal due to its unfairness. The decision is a major setback for the justice secretary, Chris Grayling who was heading the negotiations between the government and the legal profession which resolved in a 17.5% cut in fees as well as the reduction in the number of contract solicitors on duty to attend police stations and court hearings.
The process was said to be “so unfair as to amount to illegality” by Mr Justice Burnett. He said that the government had refused to allow those engaged in the process to comment on the reports by accounting firms KPMG and Otterburn, which provided the foundation for deciding how many contracts for criminal advisory work would be available to solicitors’ firms.
The Ministry of Justice will now consider the judgment and seek advice on whether it is now requires to rerun the consultation process to a satisfactory and above board level. A royal commission is to be sought to examine the funding to access to justice by the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, which brought the judicial review challenge in the instance.
Chairman of the CLSA Bill Waddington had previously requested documents prior to the courts ruling. He stated that failure to provide such documents had reduced dramatically the number of firms able to apply for duty contracts, without the profession being given any chance to comment upon the assumptions outlined in the reports.
Mr Waddington said that this “is a damming indictment of the lord chancellor, Chris Grayling. 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”. He continued by saying that at a time “when constitutional change is in the air, the right of citizens to defend themselves against state-funded prosecutions is not something that should be manipulated in a political way, but investigated impartially to appropriate savings and reforms that are sustainable and in the public interest.”
A spokesman for the Minitsry of Justice commented that the “judicial review was not wholly successful – the claimants failed in their challenge to the fee cut”.