Leal Aid cuts put into doubt by court ruling

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”.

 

Secret hearing to decide on MPs spying

The most secretive court in Britain is to stage a one of a kind public hearing in order to determine whether there is any legality behind the historic political doctrine that the British intelligence services are not permitted to intercept e-mails and phone conversations of members of parliament. The agreement to stage a hearing by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal comes after two MPs from the Green part; Caroline Lucas and Lady Jones, made complaints following leaked disclosures by Edwards Snowden made it obvious that GCHQ were monitoring and intercepting their communications which is contrary to the Wilson Doctrine.

Counsel for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, Kate Granger told the Tribunal that her clients wanted to exercise their right for the hearing to take place behind closed doors without the public or media having access to the procedure. She justified this request by saying “it may well be that we would want to say something in closed about the past policy or practice in relation to the Wilson Doctrine”.

The doctrine dates back to former Prime Minister Harold Wilson who in 1966 made a pledge that peers and MPs would not have their phones tapped. Further, in 1997 the then Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that the doctrine would extend to e-mails as well as other types of electronic communication. The power to keep the policy remains with all subsequent Prime Ministers who must inform other MPs of any changes should they wish to make such. The two complainant MPs however argue that the Wilson Doctrine must be enforced in the legal system and said that the large scale interception by GCHQ must be unlawful.

Mr Justice Burton, who is the president of the tribunal stated that he firstly wished to provide a judgement on the legality of the doctrine and whether it had any force in law. He continued to say that if the outcome was that the doctrine did not carry with it any legal force then the Tribunal will proceed to make the “usual inquiries” of the relevant agencies in order to provide a judgment on whether the MPs communications had indeed been bugged.

Mr Justice Burton rejected the proposal of the security agencies to hold parts of the hearing behind closed doors on the ground that it would spark criticism of the Tribunal itself. However, Mr Burton refused to grant the lawyers representing the two MPs with a copy of the orders which were granted to the agencies following the lodged complaint.

Levi Bellfield succeeds with injury claim against the Ministry of Defence

Levi Bellfield the man who was found guilty for the murder of schoolgirl Milly Dowler has been paid out an award of £4,500 as damages to compensate him for his injuries following an assault by a cellmate which occurred in prison. Mr Bellfield brought an injury claim against the Ministry of Justice who were critical of the decision reached by the judge by labelling it as “hugely” disappointing.

Levi Bellfield who was at the time in Wakefield prison was attached by another man at the prison with a weapon that was made within the establishment. The injuries are believed to be minor with no serious damage being inflicted. This is to some extent confirmed by the £4,500 award of damages which in legal cases reflects only those least severe injuries. The incident took place in 2009 when at the time Mr Bellfield was awaiting trial for the murder of a schoolgirl.

Reports in the Daily Mirror disclosed information that the inmate brought legal proceedings against staff at the prison based on the fact that they should have protected him and that they were negligent in fulfilling this duty. The controversial claim was fiercely defended by the Ministry of Justice who incurred a much more substantial legal bill fighting the case than the compensation they were eventually required to pay. The defence prolonged for three years before a judge in Durham county court finally ruled that the Ministry must take responsibility and be held accountable for its negligent conduct in failing to protect the prisoner.

A statement was released by a spokesman on behalf of the Ministry of Justice in which he expressed the moral defeat which is alike felt by many across the country. “We are hugely disappointed that Levi Bellfield was awarded £4,500 by a judge following an assault by a prisoner in 2009 at HMP Wakefield.” The decision is one which puts into question the law relating to prison claims and whether it is right for a murdered to be compensated for minor injuries which he sustained during incarceration.

Many across the political spectrum shared the Ministry’s disappointment. Amount those was Ian Austin the Labour MP who is also a member of the panel of the home affairs select committee. In an interview with a national newspaper he said that the decision was “a complete and utter disgrace”. He further went on to say that every right-thinking person will see the decision that a murdered being awarded compensation is wrong and “distasteful”. Mr Bellfield is now serving two whole-life sentences for the murder of three school girls and the attempted murder of one.  w