Recently, the Government unveiled plans to shave a further £220million off criminal legal aid, generating considerable opposition from across the profession and in charities and campaign groups. Ministers have fought a clever guerrilla campaign. They've salami sliced bit by bit to mitigate the short-term impact of their plans. They successfully divided and ruled the legal profession. They've smeared legal aid lawyers as fat cats and made out legal aid is only used by unworthy criminals. Needless to say, the truth is rather different.
There has been much in the press recently regarding how much barristers can expect to receive from their criminal work - many figures of which I feel are totally misleading. The best way to illustrate this is with a personal example which shows that in the line of duty many barristers work for very little, or even nothing at all.
I fully understand why some in the legal profession feel bruised or worry about how our reforms might affect them. However the government and the legal profession must work together to create a legal aid system that protects those who need it most whilst also commanding the confidence of taxpayers who fund it. Put simply, we want to ensure the limited money we have available for legal aid is concentrated on those cases where it is needed most. Our proposals would ensure a system sustainable and affordable for future generations, and it will remain one of the most generous in the world.
We are facing nothing less than an attempt by the Ministry of Justice to destroy the independent criminal bar. I doubt anyone still believes the MoJ will listen to the evidence, or engage with us unless compelled to do so. Work at our current rates is almost unsustainable - at the new rates survival is inconceivable.
Chris Grayling may have been forced into a humiliating climb-down on his plans to eliminate client choice from criminal legal aid, but don't jump for joy just yet. It's just one battle in a war on many fronts. Other aspects of his legal aid reforms are just as egregious and he shows no sign of backing down on them. Today, Grayling will be appearing before the Justice Select Committee for a grilling by a panel of MPs. Questions that MPs on the committee should ask him include...
I am writing to ask that you revisit your proposals for legal aid, proposals which have generated considerable criticism from across the board... Labour fully supports making those can afford to pay their legal fees do so, and clawing back costs from wealthy criminals. Legal aid should be reserved for those most in need.
The break up of every domestic relationship has consequences of one sort or another. Many adults find it possible to get over the distress and get on with the rest of their lives. The involvement of children, however, increases the potential for complications, as both parents try to do what they believe is right for the well-being of their sons or daughters.
From the reporting, you might have thought this was just a group of public-spirited barristers taking a break from their highly paid jobs to protect the justice system. Maybe they were. But I can't help noticing that legal aid pays the fees of lawyers. Thus, any cuts to the budget come directly from their capacious wallets.
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 Dominic Grieve should know better.