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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick