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Liz Truss Accused Of Having "No Idea" About Legal Aid When She Was Justice Secretary

Liz Truss was criticised over her record as justice secretary (Alamy)

3 min read

Former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay has criticised Liz Truss' grasp of the legal aid system during her time as Justice Secretary as the Tory leadership hopeful faces a fresh battle with the legal profession if she becomes prime minister next month.

Barristers are due to stage an indefinite walkout over pay from 5 September, the day the new prime minister will be announced. Members of the Criminal Bar Association are demanding a 25 per cent increase to pay for legal aid work, representing those who cannot afford lawyers. They have argued that the government's current offer of 15 per cent is insufficient and leaves many working for less than minimum wage. 

In an interview with The House, Mackay, who served as Lord Chancellor from 1987 to 1997, pointed to fallout between Truss and the legal profession during her stint as Justice Secretary from 2016-2017, and questioned her understanding of legal aid. 

"I don't know that Liz Truss had any idea of how legal aid was done," he said. "You really need to know something about it."

During her 11 months in the role, Truss, who is widely expected to win the Tory leadership race, faced accusations that she failed to stand up for the judiciary, including when three judges were called "enemies of the people" by the Daily Mail following a ruling against the government over the Brexit process.

She was also accused of failing to adequately fund legal aid, a charge which Mackay also levelled at former justice secretary Chris Grayling.

"[Graying] was in charge when very tight spending limits were imposed and he was really not prepared to stand up for legal aid in the way I had done," the Tory peer said.

"I think a person who is not immersed in the legal system will be prepared to give up what lawyers really need because he or she does not believe they have much support among the public."

Mackay, who is stepping down from the House of Lords, was the last Lord Chancellor to hold the role whilst also being in charge of the department which oversees the courts and legal aid process and presiding over the House of Lords.

He criticised the recent trend of appointing justice ministers with little legal experience, warning they were less likely to stand up for lawyers and judicial independence.

But he said he was not supportive of strike action, arguing that questions about the amount of legal aid paid to barristers was an issue which should be "settled by the courts".

"In the past, the Bar took a case against one of my predecessors... on the limited size of legal aid and the one," he said.

"I had no such problem – I was mighty careful how I handled that. I was able to keep legal aid levels up, though I had to open up my guns to do so.

"I wasn't prepared to stop some of the things I would have preferred not to happen, but if I really came out against, they usually did not happen."

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