Weekly round-up, w/c July 8th

justice2News Digest for week commencing 8 July 2013, by Emma Walker

Grayling fails to show his working in justifying reforms to legal aid: This week has been about the Justice Secretary’s performance at the Justice Select Committee last week on his proposals to ‘transform’ criminal and civil legal aid. Grayling took pains to state that he is ‘open to discussion’ because he wants to ‘get it right’, but in the same breath made it clear that he has little room for manoeuvre, as savings simply have to be made. To that mix, Grayling added the justification that legal aid is paid for by taxpayers, after all.

Commentators have this week pointed out that Grayling’s equivocations at the Justice Select Committee show he has failed to digest the calculations worked out by others about the costs and savings to be made, if the proposed reforms are put in place.

This includes the briefing prepared by barrister, Nick Armstrong, of Matrix Chambers. Armstrong considers a selection of specific impacts that will be borne from the proposed reforms and concludes that the Government’s projected savings of £6m will be ‘dwarfed by on-costs of nearly £30m’. Armstrong concludes his paper by saying: ‘to that must be added the more general effects, which include an increase in litigants in person, an increase in court and legal aid Agency administrative costs, and implications for prison safety. There will also be costs in fighting challenges to the new system, including challenges arising out of individual refusals of legal aid, but also broader challenges where it is said that the system is simply not working’. Whilst Grayling may be right to have taxpayers’ interests at heart, the financial and social costs of the reforms that are plain to see to some, meaning Grayling’s sums leave a lot to be desired.

Legal aid Lawyers of the Year pay homage to their clients and highlight reduction in access to justice: Recipients of legal aid Lawyer of the Year (LALY) awards paid tribute to their clients last week. Raju Bhatt, who was honoured for outstanding achievement at the award ceremony, said of his clients that ‘their strength in the face of adversity is a source of our own strength in our struggle to continue with the work’. Bhatt added that the cuts mean firms like his face unprecedented challenges.

In May, Bhatt won a the groundbreaking case of Daniel Morgan, the private detective found murdered in a south London pub car park in 1987. Morgan’s family believes he was killed because he was on the cusp of uncovering corruption amongst the senior ranks of the Metropolitan police force. Following a long and sometimes seemingly fruitless battle, the Home Secretary announced that a judge-led inquiry would take place into the role of police corruption in shielding Morgan’s killers. An ex-officer involved in the failed murder investigation says the inquiry will do for police corruption what the Stephen Lawrence inquiry did to shine a light on institutional racism in the police force.

Government leading four-pronged attack to strengthen the state against the individual: Roger Smith, visiting professor at London South Bank University and the ex-director of JUSTICE, set out his concerns with the Government’s current legal aid proposals. Smith points out that ‘ministers of all political persuasions do not like judicial accountability for their actions’. Smith highlights the hostility to the Human Rights Act held by successive Home Secretaries and the surreptitious assault by the Justice Secretary on governmental scrutiny, by restricting the scope of legal aid.

In Smith’s excellent commentary he suggests that ‘you do not need to be a conspiracy theorist to identify the wider picture of what ministers are up to’. He adds: ‘they are deploying a four-fold strategy to get the genie of judicial scrutiny back in the bottle. First, they wanted secret courts to suppress embarrassing evidence. Second, they want to reduce legal aid. Third, they are attacking the Human Rights Act. Eventually, they even talk of taking the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights’. However, Smith reflects, ‘the current set of legal aid proposals will not just save money; they are intended to strengthen the state against the individual’.

I encourage you to read Roger Smith’s piece in the Gazette in full, which you can do by clicking here.

Grants awarded to projects responding to pressures on access to justice, education and the profession: Earlier in the week the Law Centres Network, the representative body for law centres nationwide, win a grant from the Legal Education Foundation (LEF), the charity which, in turn, received a £200m endowment on the sale of the University of Law last year. Julie Bishop, the Director of the Law Centres Network, which received £25,000 from the LEF said funding ‘is needed all the more now, with major changes to legal aid being implemented and charitable funding becoming tighter.’

Bishop added that ‘the grant has come at exactly the right time as the Ministry of Justice has cut funding for training’. The Law Centres Network is one of six recipients of the new grants that include the Pathways to Law programme developed by the Sutton Trust, which already saw an injection of cash from the LEF, earlier in the year.

Guy Beringer, the LEF’s Chairman commented that ‘this is an important time for the legal sector. There are increased pressures on access to justice, access to the legal profession and access to legal education’. Beringer added: ‘we want the foundation to support the many innovative and creative projects which are responding to these pressures. As today’s announcement shows, the foundation will seek to support a wide variety of organisations and will cast its net widely to cover all forms of legal education in many different social, professional and academic settings’.

Lords to debate latest reforms of legal aid: On Thursday of this week, the House of Lords are to debate the effect of the latest proposals to cut legal aid. The debate follows on from last month’s news that thanks to the legal profession’s successful lobbying campaign, the House of Commons would use one of its backbench debates to consider the Government’s proposed cuts. n anticipation of the debate in the Commons, the Law Society President, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff wrote to MPs with a copy of the Law Society’s briefing, which examined the Ministry of Justice’s proposals for the procurement of criminal legal aid and set out reasons for opposing the price-competitive tendering model. The Lords have received their own briefing in anticipation of the debate, in the form of a Library note, which sets out the background to the debate, including reactions to the proposals and a summary of recent parliamentary scrutiny of the proposed reforms.

And finally: the Justice Alliance, which is made up of organisations opposed to the Government’s plans to ‘transform’ legal aid has called for a day of action across England and Wales on Tuesday 30 July 2013. The aim of the day is to celebrate legal aid and protest against the Government’s proposals to further reform the system. In London, a rally will be held outside the Old Bailey to celebrate 64 years of legal aid and highlight the latest attacks on the Criminal legal aid system. For further details of action you can take against the reforms, visit the Save UK Justice website, for details.

 

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