Legal aid changes 'irrational'

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Indy Politics
(First Edition)

AN OVERWHELMING desire to save money led the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, to ignore his duty to ensure that everyone has access to justice, the High Court was told yesterday, writes Adam Sage.

The claim was made by the Law Society at the start of its challenge to reforms planned by Lord Mackay to the way solicitors are paid for legal aid work in magistrates' courts.

Michael Beloff QC, for the society, told the court that the Lord Chancellor had acted 'illegally and irrationally' when he announced that he would scrap the system of hourly rates by which lawyers have traditionally been paid for criminal cases.

Proposals to pay solicitors standard fees would undermine the Legal Aid Act, which aimed to ensure that everyone could afford to go to court.

'Solicitors are not taking up the cudgels on behalf of lawyers' remuneration. The legal aid scheme is not designed for the benefit of lawyers but for the benefit of citizens of moderate means,' he said.

The new system was flawed because Lord Mackay had failed to take account of this 'fundamental factor'.

But David Pannick QC, for the Lord Chancellor, said those entitled to legal aid would still be able to obtain advice from competent and diligent solicitors. The new system would be monitored and reformed if it was found to cause injustice.

The court is expected to give judgment today.