'This is astonishing stuff': Split over legal aid shake-up goes right to the top

'Lord Chancellor cannot convince even government's own senior law officer of merits'

Deputy Political Editor

The Government's plans to shake up legal aid have received a chilly response from its most senior law officer, signalling deep divisions among ministers over the controversial moves.

Chris Grayling, the Lord Chancellor, the architect of the proposals, has been accused of plotting the privatisation of justice by switching legal aid contracts from solicitors to large firms.

The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, hinted at his concerns over the scheme in response to a letter from 145 barristers urging a rethink over the proposals.

He failed to endorse the plans, which have been put out to consultation by the Ministry of Justice, and promised to continue relaying their worries to Mr Grayling.

David Allen Green, a media lawyer, said: "This is astonishing stuff. It would seem that the Lord Chancellor cannot convince even the government's own senior law officer of the merits of the criminal legal aid proposals."

Under the plans, designed to save £200m by 2018, solicitors will no longer be paid for the work they undertake, instead receiving a fixed fee for each case they represent.

Suspects will lose their right to choose their lawyer, the number of accredited legal aid firms will be cut by three-quarters and contracts will be awarded to lowest bidders.

Critics say the moves risk driving down standards and have also criticised plans to exclude foreign nationals from entitlement to legal aid.

The letter was signed by 145 members of the Attorney's Panel Counsel, lawyers appointed for government work.

In his reply, Mr Grieve emphasised that "policy in this area is owned by the Lord Chancellor and not me" and promised to continue drawing to Mr Grayling's attention "the concerns that have been expressed to me".

He concluded: "I will endeavour to ensure, as far as I can, that the decision he reaches in due course is a fully informed one."

Mr Grieve referred to a speech he gave to the Bar Council in April. He recounted: "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 shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry, said: "Dominic Grieve has the advantage over the Lord Chancellor in being someone who has practised the law and as a result has an insight. The Lord Chancellor really ought to listen, particularly as he is new to this field."

A spokesman for Mr Grieve said: "The letter to Panel Counsel makes it clear that ministerial responsibility for legal aid lies not with the Attorney General but with the Secretary of State and that as the letter was addressed to the Attorney General he would ensure its contents were passed on to the Secretary of State to help inform his decision. That is the purpose of a consultation exercise."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn