The (surprisingly short) window of opportunity to submit responses to the Government’s legal aid proposals closed earlier in the month. But (unsurprisingly) discussion – and criticism – of them shows little sign of abating. Three recent developments have caught my eye.
First, the Backbench Business Committee of the House of Commons has announced that a debate on the legal aid proposals will be held in the Commons on 27th June.
Second, the Attorney-General has replied to the letter which Treasury Counsel sent to him expressing grave concern about the proposals. The Attorney-General’s reply is very carefully-worded, but is hardly fulsome in its support of the proposals. Referring to remarks he made at a meeting of the Bar Council, the Attorney-General says:
I said that on the whole, the service provided by the legal profession is taken for granted and that there was a general view that whilst lawyers complained about every financial cut imposed, the edifice will continue to function as it has in the past. I said that it was apparent now, from listening to what had been said at the meeting, that many present took the view that these proposals would cause the edifice to collapse. In my view, it was vital that the Bar use the consultation exercise to explain why these proposals will damage the justice system and what the overall impact will be.
The letter concludes with this (rather pointed, I think) paragraph:
Policy in this area is owned by the Lord Chancellor and not me. But I have already spoken to the Lord Chancellor and will continue to draw to his attention the concerns that have been expressed to me. I will endeavour to ensure, as far as I can, that the decision he reaches in due course is a fully informed one.
Third, David Pannick has a piece in today’s Times (£) in which he says that
there are worrying signs that the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, is not taking the consultation as seriously as it deserves … Instead of promoting lazy and ignorant myths that seek to demonise legal aid barristers and solicitors as “cashing in” (as The Sun headline put it last week), the Lord Chancellor needs to address the evidence and the arguments. That is what lawyers and judges do. And it is how Parliament and the courts will, in due course, examine Mr Grayling’s conclusions.
What those conclusions are likely to be may become apparent, at least to some extent, on 3rd July: the Commons Justice Committee has announced that it will question the Lord Chancellor on that date about his proposals for legal aid.