THE government should be taken to court over legal aid cutbacks, solicitors said yesterday.
Two legal groups, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association and the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, have launched a challenge at the High Court to demand a judicial review on the planned reforms.
According to the lawyers Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s devised “process” would result in “serious harm” to the justice system.
On behalf of both groups, Jason Coppel QC said that the legal aid reforms “have serious implications for access to criminal justice in England and Wales and so for the rule of law.”
Mr Coppel added that the decisions of Mr Grayling will “bring about the closure of (at least) hundreds of businesses which have been built up through conscientious public service over many years.”
Fellow solicitor Raj Chada echoed the sentiment saying: “The reforms are the death-knell for a pillar of the welfare state.”
“Unless this process is stopped there will be very few clients that can rely on this anymore,” added the partner of renowned legal firm Hodge Jones & Allen, who defended miners during the 1980s strikes.
Instead of giving room to larger legal firms which would provide more pro bono service as argued by the Justice Secretary, Mr Coppel believes the process will simply leave poorer people without legal help, a phenomenon he called “advice deserts.”
Mr Chada argued: “Those who are wealthy will get the best lawyers, those who can’t afford it will a system where people are overworked, with massive caseloads and treated in some sort of process-way.
“That’s why this is such an important battle to fight.”
The case hearing ends today.
Meanwhile Sir James Munby, the most senior family court judge in England and Wales, warned that public money intended to fund court administration may have to be used to cover bills for those who cannot get legal aid.
The president of the Family Division of the High Court said there may be circumstances in which family court judges can order HM Courts and Tribunals Service to bear the cost of “certain activities.”
He highlighted three cases in which men wanted to play a role in the lives of their children but could not afford to pay legal bills and could not get public funding.