Michael Gove announces legal aid U-turns
The Justice Secretary announced today he would be suspending the second of two planned cuts to lawyers’ fees until at least April of next year, when he will “return to any decision” on the issue.
Labour argued it was a “staggering admission” that Conservative plans to reform legal aid had “descended into utter chaos”.
Mr Gove also announced a controversial process for awarding legal aid contracts would be scrapped.
The so-called ‘dual contracting’ system, which limited the number of firms able to do legal aid work, was blasted by the profession as uncompetitive.
According to Mr Gove the Ministry of Justice was facing 99 legal challenges over the process, and a judicial review had “raised additional implementation challenges”.
Mr Gove said the decision to back down on the policies were also based on a new settlement from the Treasury allowing “greater flexibility” in legal aid funding.
He added: “My decision is driven in part by the recognition that the litigation will be time consuming and costly for all parties, whatever the outcome.
“I do not want my department and the legal aid market to face months if not years of continuing uncertainty, and expensive litigation, while it is heard.”
The announcement is the latest in several reversals by Mr Gove of policies implemented by his predecessor Chris Grayling including a prisoner book ban and criminal court charges.
Mr Grayling had introduced a legal aid cut of 8.75% in March 2014, followed by a second cut of the same amount in July 2015, shortly after Mr Gove took over.
It is the second of these cuts which will be suspended.
In a statement today, Mr Gove said: “By not pressing ahead with dual contracting, and suspending the fee cut, at this stage we will, I hope, make it easier in all circumstances for litigators to instruct the best advocates, enhancing the quality of representation in our courts.”
Shadow Justice Secretary Lord Falconer slammed the announcement, and demanded to know how much taxpayer cash had been lost as a result of the failed policies.
“This is a staggering admission from the Tory Government and represents a final confirmation that their plans to reform criminal legal aid have descended into utter chaos,” Lord Falconer said in a statement.
He added: “Labour, practitioners and experts warned from the start that this flawed policy would be a disaster but Ministers pushed ahead regardless.”
“While it’s welcome that they have finally listened, the Government must now come clean about how much public money has been wasted on this doomed endeavour, so that ministers can be held fully accountable for this fiasco.”