How Sir Thomas 'forgot' Chief Justice's letter: MPs summon mandarin to explain why they were misled

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The Independent Online
THE SCENE: Committee Room 16 at the House of Commons. Sir Thomas Legg, Permanent Secretary in the Lord Chancellor's Department, has been recalled by the Public Accounts Committee. At an earlier hearing he was asked if judges had complained about cuts in legal aid eligibility.

MPs now want to know why he said they had not when he had received a letter from Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice and Lord Bingham, the Master of the Rolls, protesting at the cuts.

Robert Maclennan, a Liberal Democrat member of the committee, asked Sir Thomas why it 'slipped your memory?'

'I cannot give a certain answer to that, in the nature of things. Probably the main reason it had slipped my memory is because the letter was about proposed changes in eligibility. . . . Rightly or wrongly, we didn't see it as very germane.'

'This is an incredible answer. . .' said Mr Maclennan. He said that at the time Sir Thomas was giving his evidence, the Lord Chief Justice was disclosing the existence of the letter in a House of Lords debate.

Sir Thomas said he had apologised. 'Quite late in the evening of the following day, I happened to be dining at my Inn of Court and my private secretary came and said there had been a press inquiry (from the Independent) about how it came about that I had answered Mr Williams (a Labour member of the committee) as I did. . . . At once the penny dropped and I should have answered Mr Williams's question in the affirmative. . . . I am afraid it slipped

my mind that the letter existed.'

'Your misleading of the committee blocked a further line of questioning. Do you accept that?' asked Mr Maclennan. - 'Yes.'

Terry Davis, a Labour member, asked Sir Thomas why the six or seven officials he had appeared with had not told him about the letter. Sir Thomas said: 'I think my colleagues, like me - nobody had mentioned it to me, I don't blame them for that - rightly or wrongly did not think it was a matter which was

relevant.'

Mr Davis asked whether they were suffering from 'collective amnesia'? 'Collective categorisation,' said Sir Thomas. 'Rightly or wrongly we put this matter into a different category.'

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