'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."

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?