Legal aid update – what’s been happening this week?

An eventful and exciting week for those concerned by the current legal aid proposals (and that should be everyone). Here’s a summary of the last week’s main events:

House of Commons backbench debate

The backbench debate held on Thursday 27 June 2013 at the House of Commons was requested by MPs David Lammy (Labour, Tottenham) and Sarah Teather (Lib Dem, Brent Central) and was attended by over 30 MPs, with opposition to the proposals from across the political spectrum. You can watch the debate here and read the Hansard transcript here. The debate was described by the Speaker as ‘extremely heavily subscribed’ with Members limited to five – and later four – minutes each. Members repeatedly called for a further debate to discuss the proposals in more depth, showing the level of interest and concern across parties and constituencies. It’s not too late to write to your MP to raise concerns on your behalf.

E Petition reaches 100,000 and more

The Save UK Justice E Petition set up by Rachel Bentley reached the 100,000 mark on Friday 28 June 2013 and now has over 101,500 signatures. It’s not too late to sign if you haven’t already – the more signatures there are, the clearer the country’s concerns about the proposals.

MoJ deleting responses without reading them?

Also on Friday 28 June 2013 the MoJ apparently began sending out emails advising some respondents to the consultation that their emailed responses had been deleted without being read. In response to the Law Society’s concerns about this, the MoJ has said that this is ‘an IT glitch’ and that the problem ‘is not widespread’; the MoJ also reassures us by tweet: ‘Just to confirm that no message containing a legal aid consultation response is being deleted unread’. So that’s probably OK, then.  We look forward to a response from the MoJ to a Freedom of Information request asking how many responses were deleted. We’re told that some of those affected have asked the MoJ for a copy of their own response back, just in case.

Is Grayling listening…?

Chris Grayling has confirmed today in a letter to the Chair of the Justice Committee that he expects to amend the controversial proposal under which defendants would be unable to choose their lawyer. Here’s the story in today’s Guardian and the Bar Council’s response. A small concession, but let’s hope this means the MoJ is genuinely open to listening to responses to the consultation, and to alternatives (and that he’ll soon see the light on Judicial Review, the residence test, and Price Competitive Tendering, among others).

City lawyers join the opposition

And City law firms have today also spoken out to oppose the MoJ’s legal aid proposals, which they say ‘pose a potentially irreversible risk to the standards and reputation of English justice’, in a letter to the Law Society from the Chair of the City of London Law Society (CLLS). The CLLS raises concerns in the same letter that plans to limit legal aid for Judicial Review would be ‘particularly damaging for the country’s reputation’. Read the Law Society’s related article here.

What’s Next?

Chris Grayling gives evidence to the Justice Select Committee this Wednesday 3 July 2013 at 9:30am. Watch this space and follow us on Twitter @savejusticeuk

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