It doesn’t take a lawyer to realise this attack on legal aid will have a deleterious effect on justice

Chris Grayling wants to shave £200m off the legal aid budget. Having made the decision to cut, the law of unintended consequences comes into play

Share

Today, The Independent on Sunday revealed the extent of misgivings around Chris Grayling’s proposals to shave £200m off the country’s legal aid budget. Critics – top judges among them – fear Government plans to stop paying solicitors for the legal aid work they do, and instead give them a fixed fee for each case they represent, may destroy England’s 800-year-old tradition of fair and open access to justice for all. Of all the special interest groups expressing fury at the impact of Government cutbacks, there is one profession unlikely to attract public sympathy in austerity Britain: m’learned friends.

So should we dismiss their protestations about the Government’s reforms as special pleading from a self-interested group? Well, actually, no. Because their concerns at Mr Grayling’s proposals are shared by others – like the Magistrates Association – who don’t have a vested interest and are equally fearful of the consequences of his reforms.

Mr Grayling came from the simple proposition that he wanted to save about 20 per cent (or £200m) from the legal aid budget, which – he disingenuously claims – is one of the most expensive in the world. But having made the decision to cut, the law of unintended consequences comes into play.

Mr Grayling realises that such steep reductions in fees mean that the new system will be uneconomic for most small firms of lawyers. So under the plan, 1,600 accredited legal aid providers will be replaced with up to 400 contractors. The idea is that economies of scale will balance the cost reductions.

But what if one firm is better than another and gets more work than a rival firm with the same fixed costs? Well, says Mr Grayling, you remove the client’s right to choose. And what if one firm decides to increase its income by encouraging its clients to see the legal process through to an expensive trial? Easy, suggests Mr Grayling, pay them a fixed fee for work leading up to a court appearance and another fixed fee for all court work (with some exceptions) regardless of whether a client pleads guilty or not.

But it doesn’t take a lawyer to realise that these measures will have serious and deleterious effect on the administration of justice. In an attempt to save money it pitches the interests of clients against the lawyers who being paid to look after their interests. It removes all incentives for solicitors to offer an above-average service. And it ends continuity from representation: every lawyer will start with every client from scratch. Hardly efficient or just.

Concerned parties have eight weeks to make their representations to the Ministry of Justice. Then the Government will decide whether or not to listen.

The Tories are portraying their reforms as cracking down on fat-cat lawyers’ pay and people who misuse the legal aid system. But in truth it is much more complicated than that. Yes, legal aid is expensive but the question is: what price justice?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home