THE BLOG

Dominic Grieve Should Back His Lawyers Against G4S Justice

09/06/2013 11:44 BST | Updated 09/08/2013 10:12 BST

Everyone knows what justice secretary, Chris Grayling, thinks about judicial review and lawyers. He despises them both and nothing is going to change his mind. For him concepts such as access to justice and holding the executive to account are just airy-fairy abstractions that stand in the way of G4S and Tesco returning a dividend to their shareholders.

That is presumably one of the reasons why 145 government lawyers directed their concerns to Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, instead. Their critique of the plans is devastating. They say the planned curbs to legal aid funding for judicial review will create an "underclass" and are "unconscionable".

These are lawyers who actually defend the government in judicial reviews and they say that "the proposals in the Consultation Paper will undermine the accountability of public bodies to the detriment of society as a whole and the vulnerable in particular." They can see from their own experience that judicial reviews provide a "powerful corrective" to poor decision making.

So what does Dominic Grieve think about all this? Unlike Grayling he is a distinguished lawyer, a Queen's Counsel. He is a staunch defender of that other great corrective to government abuses of power, the European Convention on Human Rights. He also describes himself as the 'Guardian of the Public Interest'. As such he has carved out an active role for himself prosecuting in the name of the public interest Googling jurors and journalists who break the rules on contempt of court. However, he has been noticeably quiet on the legal aid reforms that go to the heart of how our legal system operates in the public interest.

I call on Dominic, as 'Guardian of the Public Interest' to explain how putting up fees for judicial review and bringing in new, shorter time limits is in the public interest. I see how it's in the interest of a Tesco that wants to expand onto a village green, or of a factory that's been pumping slime into a nearby river, but I don't see how it's in the public interest.

As 'Guardian of the Public Interest', does Dominic also really believe that it is a good idea to divvy up criminal legal aid work among a handful of soulless, bargain-basement behemoths whose financial interests will be best served by making everyone plead guilty?

Under Grayling's plans a trucking company could end up in charge of making sure the innocent don't get sent down. I wouldn't be surprised if those serial cock-up artists at G4S start sniffing around these contracts either. They already run prisons and prisoner transit services, so why not give them the full package? Then they'd get paid three times for everyone who pleads guilty. Our once-great adversarial system of justice will be replaced by a conveyor belt of guilty pleas.

Those strapped on to this conveyor belt will no longer have a choice over who defends them. An innocent person could therefore find themselves taking on the combined might of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service represented by someone incompetent, lazy or even downright drunk. There would be nothing they could do. Like a medieval peasant, their only hope would be to hope and pray that the judge and their peers in the jury take pity on them.

Chris Grayling might not have a problem with G4S justice. He, Cameron, Osborne and the rest of them may well think that anyone who has reached the age of criminal responsibility without earning enough to hire their own silk is to be presumed a member of the criminal classes. But Grieve should know better. He knows that what is at stake is a justice system that has evolved over the centuries to be the envy of the world. His lawyers have spoken out in the public interest and so should he.