Update on All-Party Group on Legal Aid
Eleanor Sanders, Project Worker to the All-Party Group (APG) on Legal Aid, writes:
The APG on Legal Aid held a breakfast meeting at parliament on 11 February 2014. The purpose of the meeting was to brief MPs and lords about the government’s ongoing changes to civil and criminal legal aid. The meeting was particularly timely given the publication on 5 February of the government’s response to the judicial review consultation.
During the meeting, presentations were given by Nick Armstrong (Matrix Chambers) and Michael Turner QC (Garden Court Chambers). Nick spoke about civil legal aid, giving examples from his personal practice of the problems that had been caused by the recent changes to the scope of legal aid available in prison law cases. He urged the audience to take action on proposed cuts that could still be stopped or amended, including the residence test and the reforms to judicial review which had been set out in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, published the week before the meeting. In particular, he stressed the importance of judicial review, and criticised Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s assertion that these cuts are only opposed by those who ‘benefit from the status quo’. Nick countered that judicial review is fundamentally about righting public wrongs, not private ones, and is futurelooking and benefits society as a whole.
Michael Turner QC stressed that the cuts are not about saving money. In his view, the idea that they could do so was either deliberately misleading, or showed that the government did not realise how much money was being wasted due to inefficiencies in the criminal justice system. He criticised the expenses incurred by the Public Defender Service and the problems it had encountered in dealing with cases where there is a conflict of interest between defendants. He expressed concern over the government’s willingness to entrust contracts to companies such as G4S which had been shown not to have paid adequate tax. He saw the cuts as an attempt by the government to undermine the legal profession due to its power to expose government inadequacy. He feared for the future of the profession if it became inaccessible except to a wealthy elite.
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