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Legal aid cuts put on hold

22nd Sep 2014

Government plans to cut legal aid have been put on hold after the high court ruled that the consultation process was too unfair.

The £220 million cuts, imposed by Chris Grayling, justice secretary, have been delayed as the court ruled the government consultation process was too unfair.

Grayling was at the head of negotiations with the legal sector which have resulted in a 17.5% cut in legal aid costs, affecting solicitors’ duties to attend courts and police stations. However, the court’s challenge to these cuts poses a problem.

Mr Justice Burnett deemed the process ‘so unfair as to amount to illegality’.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) did not allow those involved with the consultation process to comment on reports drawn up by accountancy firms KPMG and Otterburn, which laid out initial plans to decide how many duty contracts would be available for solicitors’ firms.

The plans to cut legal aid have been met with resistance, and now the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, who demanded a review of the process, have also stated that they are seeking a royal commission into funding for legal aid, to allow everyone access to justice.

Chairman of the CLSA, Bill Waddington, had already put in a request for the documents before the MoJ decided not to allow comments on them. Waddington argued that this meant the law profession was being denied the opportunity to comment on anything in the reports that could affect duty contract applications.

He condemned Chris Grayling for acting unfairly, believing him to be ‘limiting access to justice and shredding the treasured principle of equality before the law’. He went on to say that the rights citizens have to defend themselves should not be manipulated for politics, but instead should be investigated ‘impartially’ and in a way that reflected public interest.

A spokesperson for the MoJ stated that the judgment raised some ‘technical issues’ about the consultation process, which are now being considered, but that the MoJ was still committed to reforming legal aid to ensure it remained sustainable to those who need it.