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Proposals to limit legal aid for judicial review will undermine the rule of law

The Telegraph, 29 May 2013

QCs are concerned about the Ministry of Justice's plans to further restrict legal aid for judicial review

SIR - The Government says that a fair justice system with “fair outcomes” is essential in our democratic society, and that legal aid is the “hallmark of a fair, open justice system”. In our justice system, judicial review is the means by which the courts restrain public bodies when they act unlawfully. Access to judicial review is therefore essential to the rule of law.

We are senior counsel who specialise in judicial review. We act for and against public bodies. We are gravely concerned that practical access to judicial review is now under threat. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 already severely limits legal aid for judicial review. The Government acknowledges that the scope for further savings is very small. Nevertheless, only eight days after LASPO came into force, the Ministry of Justice published proposals which would further remove legal aid for judicial review. These include refusing any legal aid to those who do not meet a residence test; refusing to pay lawyers in some cases for work reasonably and necessarily carried out; removing legal aid for complaints of mistreatment in prison; preventing small specialist public law firms from offering prison law advice; removing funding for test cases (whose prospects are by definition uncertain); and cutting rates for legal advice and representation still further.

The cumulative effect of these proposals will seriously undermine the rule of law, and Britain’s global reputation for justice. They are likely to drive conscientious and dedicated specialist public law practitioners and firms out of business. They will leave many of society’s most vulnerable people without access to any specialist legal advice and representation. In practice, these changes will immunise Government and other public authorities from effective legal challenge.

Abuses by UK agents and officials overseas that hitherto have been subject to the scrutiny of British courts will now, in practice attract impunity. People whose lives are affected by the unlawful action of public bodies will have no option but to try to represent themselves. Effective representation will be one-sided: the Government will continue to pay for, and be represented by specialist lawyers.

At the same time, the Ministry of Justice is proposing changes to criminal legal aid which will deny choice and effective representation to those accused of crimes, leading to a rapid and probably irreversible fall in standards of representation. We urge the Government to withdraw these unjust proposals.

Andrew Arden QC
Alex Bailin QC
Kieron Beal QC
Michael Beloff QC
Cherie Booth QC
Paul Bowen QC
Stanley Brodie QC
Paul Brown QC
Monica Carss-Frisk QC
John Cavanagh QC
Richard Clayton QC
Jason Coppel QC
Philip Coppel QC
Charles Cory-Wright QC
Stephen Cragg QC
Tom de la Mare QC
Marie Demetriou QC
Richard Drabble QC
Michael Fordham QC
Alison Foster QC
Danny Friedman QC
Neil Garnham QC
Nigel Giffin QC
Jonathan Glasson QC
Lord (Peter) Goldsmith QC
James Goudie QC
Richard Gordon QC
Eleanor Grey QC
Sam Grodzinski QC
Stephen Grosz QC
Philip Havers QC
Javan Herberg QC
Richard Hermer QC
Mark Hoskins QC
Raza Husain QC
Jeremy Johnson QC
Sean Jones QC
Philippa Kaufmann QC
Hugo Keith QC
Baroness (Helena) Kennedy QC
Tim Kerr QC
Julian B Knowles QC
James Laddie QC
Elisabeth Laing QC
Lord (Anthony) Lester QC
Natalie Lieven QC
Thomas Linden QC
Angus McCullough QC
Lord (Ken) MacDonald QC
Kate Markus (former Chair, Public Law Project)
James Maurici QC
Karon Monaghan QC
Clare Montgomery QC
Fenella Morris QC
Philip Moser QC
Tim Mould QC
Helen Mountfield QC
Gordon Nardell QC
Stephen Nathan QC
Aidan O’Neill QC
Tim Otty QC
Tim Owen QC
Lord (David) Pannick QC
Timothy Pitt-Payne QC
Tony Peto QC
Nigel Pleming QC
Jenni Richards QC
Aidan Robertson QC
Dinah Rose QC
Matthew Ryder QC
Pushpinder Saini QC
Professor Philippe Sands QC
Mark Shaw QC
Clive Sheldon QC
Jessica Simor QC
Kassie Smith QC
Hugh Southey QC
Daniel Stilitz QC
James Strachan QC
Timothy Straker QC
Jemima Stratford QC
Rhodri Thompson QC
Hugh Tomlinson QC
Stephen Tromans QC
Jon Turner QC
David Vaughan QC
Martin Westgate QC
Sean Wilken QC
Ian Wise QC
David Wolfe QC

Read letter originally published in the Telegraph here

Read the Telegraph article 'Leading barristers warn over legal aid cuts' here