The Government's case for legal aid cuts does not stand up to cross examination

Our legal system is still - just about - the envy of the world. Not for long

Related Topics

In court I am used to cross-examining witnesses. Sometimes a witness tries to pull the wool. Usually they do that if they have some sort of agenda, and the simple truth will not serve it. So when a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, which is trying to force through changes to legal aid, said this week:

“At around £2bn a year we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world. At a time when everyone has to tighten their belts, we can no longer close our eyes to the fact legal aid is taxpayers' money and it is costing too much”

I can’t cross examine the spokesperson. But I can report that six of us – and I’ll tell you more about the six of us in a moment – felt sufficiently shocked by this to decide to go public and try to put it right.

You see the Ministry want the public to think lawyers don’t care about costs. Previously they’ve said legal aid costs are ‘spiraling’. In fact, like the witness trying to pull the wool, this is misleading and dangerously so. The truth? Spending on our Criminal Justice System has fallen for a number of years. In the last five years it’s fallen from £1.12bn to £975m and the cost of the most expensive category of cases has halved (from £124m to £67m).

As for our system being expensive compared to other countries – this line has been peddled before, though the Ministry knows it’s wrong. It’s wrong because our system is different from other countries – it’s ‘adversarial’. So our legal aid budget pays for things that in other countries are transferred to other budgets. The true and fair way of making the comparison – don’t take it from me, take it from the 2012 EC report on ‘Efficiency of Justice’ – shows that out of 14 European legal systems, we are tenth when you look at legal spend per inhabitant. Behind amongst others, Spain, Norway, Austria and Belgium. Behind Luxembourg and Switzerland – which is twice as expensive.  This is not news to the Ministry. They know that. So why the spin?   What’s wrong with telling it how it is?

That same spokesperson had another line:-

“Our proposals would have more of an impact on those earning the most from legal aid – for example under our proposals a criminal barrister earning £530,000 would still receive around £430,000.”

Question: ‘Have you chosen those figures because they represent some sort of average earning for a criminal barrister?  Or are you trying to mislead the public into thinking that? Your own figures show that in fact a barrister is likely to earn less than £30,000pa from criminal legal aid. The cuts are across the board.’

In court you expect a defendant cynically to attempt to mislead a jury. But do you expect cynicism of that sort from our Ministry of Justice? Is that what we are to expect nowadays – the Ministry of Justice, for heaven sake - misleading the public for short term political expediency?

The fact is that barristers have been making serious suggestions to Minister Grayling, as to how he can make significant savings. He rejects them in favour of his plan to slash fees to barristers. Fees which have already been cut - not by two or three per cent - but by 35 per cent over the last six years.

The effect of cuts does not just fall on barristers. Outstanding and talented law students are discouraged from practicing in the criminal law, with the inevitable dip in future quality. To you who live blameless lives, the quality of justice will not be a concern. But to many, and to victims of crime, one day it will be. And it’ll be too late.

Our Criminal Justice System is still, just about, the envy of the world. Not at this rate. Not for long.  

Mr Grayling as Lord Chancellor is responsible for protecting our justice system.  That is not done when a spokesperson delivers irresponsible propaganda that deceives the public.

Who are the six barristers I referred to? We are the country’s Circuit Leaders – the leaders of the barristers’ profession.  We are individuals, and you should know who we are: Alistair MacDonald QC,  Leader North Eastern Circuit; Gregory Bull QC,  Leader Wales and Chester Circuit; Mark Wall QC, Leader Midlands Circuit; Andrew Langdon QC, Leader Western Circuit; Rick Pratt QC , Leader Northern Circuit; Sarah Forshaw QC,  Leader South Eastern Circuit.

We are six people with a bit of experience. We are entrusted to prosecute and defend some of the most serious cases in the country.     

We know that in criminal trials some witnesses will try to pull the wool. When they do, we try to show it up.

Andrew Langdon QC was called to the Bar 27 years ago. He prosecutes and defends complex cases including gang murders and high-level fraud

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice