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Grieve promises "period of silence" on legal aid

1 June 2010

Dominic Grieve QC, the new Attorney General, has promised a “period of silence” from the government before it launches a fundamental review of legal aid.

Grieve said justice secretary Ken Clarke would need time to develop an “overview of the problem” before making any decisions.

The Attorney General said it “probably came as a pretty big surprise” to the veteran politician that he landed the role of justice secretary. Grieve, the shadow justice secretary before the election, was widely tipped for the post.

Speaking at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year (LALY) awards in London last week, Grieve said there was “no more money in the kitty” for legal aid.

The Attorney General said he had “cut his teeth” as a legal aid lawyer in the 1980s and recognised that legal aid was an essential part of a civilised society.

“I am there to help Ken Clarke in his work,” Grieve said. “He is going to listen, as I expect Jonathan Djanogly [the legal aid minister] will as well.”

Grieve said the government would have to “think creatively” to create a system that was sustainable in ten year’s time and not just “lurching from one crisis to the next”.

During his speech a lone heckler shouted: “Tax the banks!”

Earlier Roy Morgan, chairman of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, said it was “absolutely crucial” that the under-privileged had access to justice. “Savings have to be made, but they can be made in administration and bureaucracy,” he said.

Cherie Booth QC, who presented the LALY awards, said it was unclear what would happen to legal aid under the coalition government, but “there were going to be cuts anyway”.

Michael Mansfield QC, who won the outstanding contribution award, said: “We expect cuts, but are we are going to let it happen? I don’t think so.”

“It’s no use people talking about reforming civil rights if these rights become totally inaccessible to the people who need them.”

He praised freelance journalist Jon Robins for 'Closing the Justice Gap', a collection of essays on the future of legal aid produced by think tank Jures and published by Solicitors Journal.

Karen Mackay, chief executive of Resolution, said afterwards that legal aid had already been subjected to “constant review” and gave very good value for money. “There’s not much fat or flab in the system these days,” she added.

Steve Hynes, director of the Legal Aid Group, said he did not think the “period of silence” would last very long.

“There could be an announcement in the autumn, or possibly before,” he said.

However, he said that since there was no mention of an Access to Justice Bill in the Queen’s Speech and the current parliamentary term would run for 18 months, it could be two years before the alternative funding systems for legal aid championed by the Conservatives in opposition took shape.

The government promised last week to reduce the MoJ’s budget by £325m as part of chancellor George Osborne’s £6bn package of cuts.

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