Long awaited – but much delayed
The government’s long-awaited LASPO review is ‘unlikely to be finished by the summer as promised’, reported the Law Society’s Gazette. The Lord Chancellor, David Gauke told the Commons justice committee that the summer recess deadline was ‘an ambitious timetable – and I think I want to look at whether that is deliverable’.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said it was ‘disappointing that the justice secretary failed to mention legal aid as one of his ministry’s priorities’, adding that the LASPO review update was ‘even more disappointing. The review increasingly looks like it will fall far below expectations’.
Christina Blacklaws, vice-president of the Law Society, said getting the review right should be the priority, but Chancery Lane was ‘increasingly concerned the MoJ hasn’t even got it underway yet. We hope to hear from the government soon about next steps’.
The government’s post-implementation review team had been ready for months, reckoned Carol Storer, director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group. ‘Also frustrating is there are so many changes to the team,’ she told the all-party parliamentary group on legal aid. ‘People who have read the literature, then move on. Expertise that has been developed has to be built up again.’
The Ministry of Justice this week published its terms of reference for the review (here). It pointed out ‘most of the data’ that will inform its work is ‘held internally’.
It is right that the Government takes the time to assess the extent to which the objectives of the LASPO changes were achieved. In addition, this process of consideration and engagement with interested parties also represents an opportunity for the Government to consider what the future should look like. The consultations that preceded LASPO were published over seven years ago, and since this time there have been significant developments in our justice system. This includes the processes through which people can access legal advice. We have seen changes in our courts and tribunals service, which are also apparent more generally in the rapid technological advancements seen across society over the past seven years.
Ministry of Justice
The government’s courts closure programme was ‘creating geographical gaps’ restricting access to justice while raising ‘pitifully small sums’ from the sale of buildings, according to Labour – as reported in the Guardian.
Apparently, the sale of 126 ‘court premises’ since 2010 has raised a total of £34m – ‘each going for little more than the average house price’.
Meanwhile, the House of Commons justice select committee wrote to Lucy Frazer, the junior justice minister, saying the elderly, mothers of young children and those without internet access would be disadvantaged by Ministry of Justice plans to close courts and promote virtual justice – reported in the Times. The committee said that proposals flouted the principle that 90% of people should be able to reach courts by public transport in one hour. ‘The plans have no “convincing policy justification” and “appear to favour value for money over the principle of access to justice”,’ Gibbs wrote.
Everyone who works in the Criminal Justice System knows there is a crisis, began Mark George QC reflecting on his career at the Bar – in an article published on the Justice Gap (here). ‘I have been in this job 40 years,’ he said. ‘That is long enough that I can remember when police would claim that every word that had been said in a two-hour interview had been accurately recorded in a pocket note book despite the note being no longer than a few pages.’
The current fees structure for legal aid in crime was more than 20 years old, said the head of barristers’ chambers Garden Court North. ‘There have been no pay increases in that time. Instead there have been huge cuts so that lawyers are often paid less today than was the case before the current fee regime was introduced. Lawyers usually do not get paid for reading unused material.’ He cited the Liam Allan disclosure fiasco saying that there was ‘a real risk that hard-pressed defence lawyers will make mistakes, or worse not do the work required that also lead to miscarriages’.
I don’t take much pleasure in being right. Some of us have been saying for years that cuts have consequences. Few public services have much fat to spare and the CJS is not one of them. We have been cut beyond the bone and the fabric of the system is collapsing.
Mark George QC
Tweet of the week
— Public Interest Law Unit (@_PILUNIT) March 8, 2018
Legal costs ‘not sexy’
Lord Justice Jackson retired this week. In an interview with the Times’ Frances Gibbs, he said that his work curbing the costs of civil litigation was ‘neither glamorous nor sexy’ ; instead it was a poisoned chalice that made him ‘extremely unpopular’. ‘Lawyers,’ he said, ‘generally don’t like change and they particularly dislike anyone meddling with costs.’ ‘I believe my reforms streamlined and improved the process of litigation, and they have substantially reduced costs while promoting access to justice,’ he said.
He said that cuts to legal aid and huge rises in court fees had been ‘deleterious’ to access to justice. ‘He “greatly regrets” both, but on this his recommendations have been ignored,’ Gibbs noted.
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