Legal aid

Why MPs should not stop legal aid reform

There is never more excitement on the Left than when a Tory MP recants and concludes that his heartless party and its callous social policies are wrong. So it was on Friday when Nigel Evans, MP for Ribble Valley, announced that he had had a ‘road to Damascus conversion’ and realised that David Cameron’s legal aid reforms – which reduced the eligibility for legal aid – had made life harder for those who found themselves on the wrong end of a court case. It wasn’t pure altruism which had led him to this conclusion – Evans himself was acquitted on nine charges of sexual assault in 2014. While the case

Gove axes another Grayling plan

You can tell when Michael Gove is driving all over another one of the policies of his predecessor Chris Grayling purely by the volume of incredibly polite language and fulsome praise that he deploys when doing so. In a written ministerial statement published today, the Justice Secretary announces that he will not be going ahead with major changes to the legal aid system designed by Grayling when he was Justice Secretary. The statement says the following: I would like to place on the record my gratitude for the determined, yet sensitive, way in which my predecessors pursued these economies. Gove also praises the ‘careful negotiation’ that Grayling carried out on the

The disturbing case of Roger Khan – and the cost of cheap justice

The defendant, Roger Khan, was on trial for a vicious attack that left a man’s skull shattered and his brain exposed to the elements, but he had no lawyer representing him in court. He was dyslexic and had no legal knowledge, but the judge had told him that, if he fired the legal-aid lawyers he no longer trusted, he would have to defend himself. In fact, the only legal advice he was getting came from the prosecution. Throughout the four-week trial, a junior Crown barrister went down to the cells each morning to advise him on how to conduct his defence — although naturally enough, the prosecution’s aim was to

Here’s what’s wrong with the ‘public sector ethos’

An infuriating benefit of readers’ online comments beneath the efforts of a columnist like me is that as you read the responses an understanding dawns of the column you ought to have written. Some readers are stupid, unpleasant or obsessive; but most are not. As you learn their reactions you see where your argument was not clear, where you were short of information, and where you were simply wrong. But more than that, you sometimes tumble for the first time to where the nub of a problem that perhaps you danced around may lie. Last Saturday I wrote for the Times about the self-righteousness of spokesmen for public services threatened


Richard Bean, the country’s most bankable playwright, knocks out a new script every four months. Thanks to the success of One Man, Two Guvnors, he’s not short of houses ready to stage his work. And the hunt for treasure in his back-catalogue continues. The Mentalists, from 2002, stars Stephen Merchant (co-writer of The Office) and Steffan Rhodri as two needy chums pursuing a whimsical dream in a cheap hotel room. Chum One is a hairdresser who makes porn films on the side. Chum Two is a salesman who dreams of founding a rebel colony overseas. Chum One films Chum Two delivering a sermon that will kick-start the revolution. That, ladies

Michael Gove vs. the ‘creaking’ legal establishment — round one

Members of the legal profession who were hoping Michael Gove’s time would be consumed trying to solve the Human Rights Act puzzle will be disappointed. In a speech to the Legatum Institute this morning, the Justice Secretary confirms he will be bring the same reformist zeal to Britain’s legal system as he did to education. Gove’s main concern, according to the extracts of the speech pre-released, is that our justice system at present is tipped too much in favour of the wealthy. Similarly to the rest of the government’s agenda, he wants a One Nation legal system: ‘There are two nations in our justice system at present. On the one hand, the wealthy, international class

Why is the NHS ring-fenced but the justice system isn’t?

Earlier this week, Sadiq Khan MP ‘admitted Labour could not reinstate £600m of legal aid cuts imposed by the government’. These are cuts which continue to have a very real impact on our society. They’ve left parents unrepresented when family judges are considering the future care of their children. They have deterred workers who are racially or sexually discriminated against in the workplace from bringing actions in the employment tribunals and priced out those who have suffered loss from bringing claims in the civil courts. The cuts have also driven the best lawyers away from publicly-funded civil work into private practice, and they have dried up the recruitment of junior barristers. We

British justice the envy of the world? Tell that to Nigel Evans

I am utterly delighted that Nigel Evans has been acquitted of serious allegations of sexual assault. He is a good, kind, gentle and decent man and a very old friend. I hope that he will be able to reconstruct his political career. Hope? Well yes. He might have been acquitted but the stigma is still there. The country has been salivating at tales of hands down trousers, drunken groping and late night romps. And there is a vociferous group of militants who believe that whatever the decision of a jury, any man accused of rape must be guilty. So in the eyes of some, Nigel’s acquittal is meaningless. If nothing

Books and the justice establishment

Every politician who engages in major reform ends up with scars on their back. Tony Blair famously complained about those scars from grappling with the public sector, while Michael Gove mostly relishes his tussles with the education establishment that he likes to call the ‘Blob’. But the education world isn’t the only one with a big, scary blob wibbling about with rage whenever a minister embarks on reform. In my Telegraph column today I look at the justice ‘Blob’, which has scored a pretty impressive scar on Chris Grayling with a campaign about a ban on books for prisoners which isn’t quite as it seems. Books are a useful weapon

How legal aid reforms are clogging up the courts

Litigants in person – individuals representing themselves, rather than relying on a lawyer – have always been a feature in courts, and are the source of the aphorism ‘a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client’. While the profusion of courts means there are no easily available statistics as to their numbers, as late as 2011, about one fifth of cases featured litigants in person. Since the government slashed legal aid in April of last year, the number of them has exploded. While the funding for these cases has vanished, the right to go to court has not. The most recent set of figures is for autumn 2013 –

The criminal bar is revolting

Something peculiar is happening at criminal courts across England and Wales this morning. Barristers from are staging an unprecedented walk out in protest at Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s plan to trim a further £220 million from the Legal Aid budget. Barristers in wigs and gowns are protesting at at Westminster Magistrates’ Court and at Crown Courts including the Old Bailey. Since 2010 the Ministry of Justice’s budget has been cut by £1.3 billion, with a further £148 million to be cut over the rest of the parliament. The government asserts that the Legal Aid bill is too high. Since the coalition took power, the bill has reduced by £264 million

Harry Mount is wrong: Chris Grayling’s legal aid reforms will damage justice

I just wonder how long Harry Mount has been waiting to put his boot into the Bar. Having a first-class degree from Oxford, membership of the Bullingdon Club and then getting a pupillage in a top class set of chambers, it must have been devastating to his well-nurtured ego to have been turned down for a tenancy. His piece in this week’s Spectator was a masterpiece of bitterness and bile. It was a travesty of what is really happening. There are no fat fees at the criminal Bar. Far from spiralling out of control the criminal legal aid budget has been cut by a third from 2006/7 and fees  between

Take it from a former barrister: Chris Grayling is right to reform legal aid

Shakespeare took it a little far in Henry IV, Part II, when Dick the Butcher said, ‘Let’s kill all the lawyers.’ Chris Grayling hasn’t made the same proposal but you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, listening to the howls of anguish and indignation coming from the Inns of Court. Grayling, the first non-lawyer to be made Lord Chancellor since the 17th century, has simply said he wants to make some savings in the legal aid bill. To the lawyers, unaccustomed to having their privileges and subsidies challenged by anyone, this means war. Already, 90 millionaire QCs — poor, impoverished Cherie Blair among them — have written a letter to

Lib-Lab bonding over legal aid

The Legal Aid Bill limps back to the Commons this afternoon, having had a rough ride through the upper chamber where the Lords inflicted 11 defeats on the government. And it looks like its next stint in the lower chamber might not be much smoother. As Paul Waugh reports, a group of MPs have tabled a new amendment to the Bill (actually, an amendment to an amendment tabled by the government on Friday) to continue to provide legal aid advice (but not representation) for reviews and appeals of benefit cases. What’s significant is that the amendment is signed by seven Lib Dem MPs, including party president Tim Farron, and four

Cutting legal aid might actually <em>cost</em> money

This afternoon’s Lords debate on the government’s Legal Aid Bill promises to be a heated affair. The Independent’s interview with Baroness Scotland – Labour peer and former Attorney General — gives a taste, beneath the headline ‘Women and children could die because of legal aid cuts’. But even before we get into an emotional debate about domestic violence and hitting ‘the poorest and weakest’ — important though it is — there’s one potential flaw that could undermine the whole point of the proposal: it might not actually save us any money. Take benefit claimants, for example, who will now longer be entitled to legal aid when challenging decisions about their

The dirty secrets of ‘no win no fee’

Jack Straw’s column in the Times today (£) contains the following revelation: ‘Our records indicate that you may be entitled to £3,450 for the accident you had. To claim free reply CLAIM to this message,” went the text that my pal Phil Riley received last week. This “accident” was, in truth, a minor prang. Phil had stopped in traffic. The chap behind drove into him, with minor damage to Phil’s car; no personal injuries. The other driver’s insurer paid Phil’s repair bill. Within days of this prang, 18 months ago, Phil was bombarded with texts and personal calls to tell him that if he would make a claim, three or

Osborne vows to play straight

George Osborne’s statement is, I hear, about 40 minutes long. I also hear that there is no obfuscation in it about what is being cut. The coalition is determined that no one can accuse them of trying to disguise what they are up to. Given what we have learned from pre-briefing, the cuts must be just massive in the departments we haven’t heard anything about yet. There is word this morning that the legal aid budget is going to be being reduced by far more than was expected even at the weekend. It appears that legal aid is one of the things that took the hit as the Treasury tried

Bad news for Clarke

Professor Ken Pease, the renowned criminologist, has written a report for the think-tank Civitas which rubbishes Ken Clarke’s plan to reduce prison numbers by extending community sentencing. Pease is of the Howard school: prison works. The key is that community sentences do not reduce reoffending. Pease estimates that 13,892 convicted offences could have been prevented by incarcerating prisoners for one extra month. The crimes for which offenders are convicted are a fraction of what they author. Pease quotes one estimate that there are 130 burglaries per conviction. Money is not saved by reducing incarceration because the costs associated with the victims (police time, NHS treatment, increased insurance premiums) increase. Using

Tipping the scales against legal aid

Britain’s legal aid system continues to fail, and should be abolished for virtually all compensation claims. Reformed Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs for short) should take its place. Those are the headline recommendations of the Adam Smith Institute’s latest report, written by legal expert Anthony Barton.   It’s not difficult to point to problems with legal aid, but the main one is that it encourages risk-free, speculative litigation, and fuels a costly compensation culture. The fact that claimants receiving legal aid are not responsible for defendants’ costs if their case is unsuccessful essentially puts them in a no-lose situation. Defendants, on the other hand, just can’t win – they’re going to

Stage 2 in the penal revolution

The government’s position is that prison does not work. It aims to reduce prison numbers and now Ken Clarke has announced that further savings will be made to the criminal justice budget. The Times reports (£) that Clarke will continue Labour’s policy of closing courts; 103 magistrates courts and 54 county courts will shut up shop. The Tories campaigned against court-closures at the fag-end of the last government; and there is whispered concern around Whitehall and Westminster that the concrete apparatus of justice is already over-stretched. But, savings must be made. Clarke’s closures will save a paltry £15.3 million from the annual £1.1bn budget; the bulk of cuts will come