January 31, 2023

UK legal aid reforms scrapped by Michael Gove

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_81891737_020516920-1From BBC

A major restructuring of the criminal legal aid system in England and Wales has been scrapped, Justice Secretary Michael Gove has confirmed.

Mr Gove said he had “decided not to go ahead” with plans to cut duty solicitor contracts at police stations and magistrates’ courts by two thirds.

He also suspended for 12 months a second 8.75% cut in legal aid fees.

Labour shadow justice secretary Lord Falconer said the government’s plans had “descended into utter chaos”.

The proposed cuts – drawn up by former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling – would have reduced the number of legal aid contracts from 1,600 to 527.

However, Mr Gove said there were “real problems” in pressing ahead with the proposals.

Analysis

By BBC legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman

“Duty” work at police stations and magistrates courts is prized because it provides solicitors with clients.

The reform was designed to consolidate the profession and achieve economies of scale by reducing the number of contracts from 1,600 to around 500. Firms took part in a detailed procurement process to win one.

Amidst controversy and allegations of ineptitude from a whistleblower, some succeeded, many failed, leading to 99 separate legal challenges.

Citing those, and a settlement from the Treasury that gives him more flexibility, Mr Gove says he doesn’t want the legal aid market to face years of uncertainty and expensive litigation, so he’s ditching the policy.

It’s yet another U-turn on a policy of his predecessor Chris Grayling, following those on restricting books for prisoners, building a secure college for young offenders and scrapping of the contentious criminal courts charge.

Lawyers groups are delighted. Relations between Mr Gove and Mr Grayling? Probably icy.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) currently faces 99 separate legal challenges, Mr Gove said in a written ministerial statement.

“My decision is driven in part by the recognition that the litigation will be time-consuming and costly for all parties, whatever the outcome,” he said.

“I do not want my department and the legal aid market to face months if not years of continuing uncertainty, and expensive litigation, while it is heard.”

‘Doomed endeavour’

Solicitors’ associations had opposed the reforms to legal aid, warning the so-called “dual contracting” system and cutting the number of contracts would lead to inadequate access to legal advice for defendants.

A legal challenge to the reforms was heard in the High Court last year – ruling in the government’s favour.

However, Lord Falconer said the MoJ had been told the policy “would be a disaster”.

“This is a staggering admission from the Tory government and represents a final confirmation that their plans to reform criminal legal aid have descended into utter chaos,” he said.

“The government must now come clean about how much public money has been wasted on this doomed endeavour, so that ministers can be held fully accountable for this fiasco.”

Mark Fenhalls QC, of the Criminal Bar Association, said it had been the right decision to abandon the “flawed plans”.

An MoJ spokesman said the UK’s legal aid system was “still one of the most generous in the world”, and spent £1.6bn on legal aid last year – almost a quarter of its departmental budget.

“The spending review settlement we have reached with the Treasury for the next five years leaves legal aid almost untouched,” he said.

IMAGE: Lawyers had protested and gone on strike in response to the planned cuts

For more on this story go to: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-35432581

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