Judges' legal aid fears not revealed

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The Independent Online
THE LORD Chancellor's Department's most senior civil servant failed to admit that senior judges were concerned over legal aid cuts when questioned by a Commons select committee, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

During questioning by the Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday, Sir Thomas Legg, the permanent secretary, was asked by Alan Williams, Labour MP for Swansea West, whether two senior judges had expressed concern to the department that legal aid cutbacks risked inefficiency in the courts because of an upsurge of litigants in person.

Sir Thomas replied: 'No.'

But later on Wednesday, Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice, and Lord Bingham, Master of the Rolls, confirmed during a Lords' debate that they had sent a letter to the department last week urging exploration of alternative ways of reducing legal aid spending.

A committee member said yesterday: 'I find it inconceivable that the accounting officer of the department would not know of the letter.'

Sir Thomas said last night: 'There may have been a misunderstanding.

'When I answered Mr Williams that I was unaware that 'two senior judges' (his phrase) had written to the Lord Chancellor, it slipped my mind that the Lord Chief Justice himself had written to the Lord Chancellor.

'I will examine the papers and if I have inadvertently misstated the position I will write to the committee in the usual way.'