'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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory