Sadiq's response to the Statement on Legal Aid by the Secretary of State for Justice

Thursday 5 September 2013

Check Against Delivery

Mr Speaker, can I thank the current Lord Chancellor for advanced sight of his statement just over an hour ago but I'm somewhat puzzled why The Times was considered a more important outlet for publicly announcing today's climb down rather than the proper place, here in parliament.

Can the media shy Lord Chancellor explain this rather odd decision to the House?

Let me reiterate once more Labour’s position. We support efforts to find savings across our criminal justice system. We support making those who can afford to pay their legal fees do so and restricting legal aid to those truly most in need. We support using frozen assets of criminals to fund their legal costs. We want a more efficient system. We offered to work with the Justice Secretary months ago on this but he arrogantly refused.

Although I note that he’s taken on board many of our concerns which we welcome and adopted our idea of a review and asking experts to look at the legal processes to see if further positive reform can be made. Can he give the House more details of this review please?

Today's statement by the Justice Secretary is confirmation that his plans, and they were HIS plans, really were half baked legally illiterate nonsense. The Justice Secretary has been forced to climb down and the sloppy way he goes about making policy has been exposed by experts in the field from judges to rape victims, from high street solicitors to the victims of miscarriages of justice who really do know what they are talking about.

This Justice Secretary was warned the plans would see the destruction of a swathe of legal SMEs across the country. Yet he denied it would happen.

He was warned removal of client choice would undermine confidence in our justice system. He denied it.

And he was warned a flat fee would put pressure on the innocent to plead guilty. And he refused to accept this either.

Are we to believe he now agrees with all of these criticisms of his original proposals?

Can he confirm that the 16,000 representations the MoJ received to this plans is a record?

Of course, I note that the Justice Secretary has made a deal with the trade union for solicitors, the Law Society, which we welcome.

Do they accept fully the plans he has published today?

Does he still stand by his previous public criticism of the Barristers trade union, the Bar Council?

What discussions has he had with them about these plans?

Can he confirm his latest plans still lead to a single fee for magistrates’ court work regardless of whether the case is a guilty plea or a trial?

He will be aware this could lead to a perverse incentive to persuade a defendant to plead Guilty when he isn’t.

Given the Government have changed their mind on this for Crown court, why not Magistrates’ Courts as well?

Small and medium firms undertaking legal aid work are already struggling to survive. There is a real concern about their future viability with a 17.5% cut in their fees.

In light of that, can he tell the House the Impact Assessments he has done on his latest plans?

What will the impact of these plans be on?

High street firms

Junior barristers

BAME solicitors and barristers

And on access to solicitors across the country, particularly in rural areas

Can he tell the House what changes he has made to his plans for civil legal aid and judicial review, bearing in mind the many concerns there are with these?

He should now be aware that his plans for civil legal aid would have prevented the Gurkhas and the family of Jean Charles De Menezes getting legal aid. His plans for JR will create a perverse incentive for lawyers not to settle cases as they will need to get permission at a court hearing to recover costs. Has he listened to concerns about these plans?

Mr Speaker, I'm pleased the Justice Secretary used his summer to swot up on the law and justice system.

I’m glad that primer worked.

I’m pleased he appears to have finally seen sense and listened to those who know better. 

We will study the new plans closely and consider the 270 page document published today by the Justice Secretary.

The public want the confidence that the rule of law is being preserved, access to justice is being maintained and that those truly guilty are being prosecuted and punished after due process.

The Justice system needs to be both credible and efficient.

These are the tests we will continue to use when looking at the Governments plans to reform legal aid. 


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