Lawyers have begun a legal challenge this week against the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) decision to press ahead with legal aid cuts by issuing proceedings for a judicial review (JR), arguing that the consultation that preceded the cuts was conducted unlawfully.
The London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) and the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) claim that an economic report prepared for the MoJ was ‘unfairly and unlawfully’ withheld by the ministry until after the consultation was closed.
The report, which was designed to analyse the Government’s fee cuts and contracting reforms and advise on the number of legal aid contracts that would be offered, highlighted flaws in the proposals and even suggested that the model was unworkable in many geographical areas.
It was published in February this year along with the Government’s final proposals and was ‘incorrectly’ applied to justify the 17.5 per cent cuts and two-tier contracting model, according to the solicitors’ groups.
Meanwhile, in addition to the challenge to the legality of the legal aid consultation, court cases across the country are also now starting to suffer serious delays due to unrepresented defendants clogging up the system.
Courts in Hull, Reading, Liverpool, Derby, Nottinghamshire, Devon and Cornwall, Somerset and Coventry and Warwickshire are suffering the most.
The Crown and Magistrates Court action was started by solicitors in April and, as a result, defendants who cannot get a publicly funded solicitor to represent them and are unable to afford a private lawyer, are appearing without legal advice, which is causing delays and extra work for judges, the CPS and court administrative staff.
There has already been a case of an 81 year old man appearing undefended on attempted murder charges due to the action, while a scuffle broke out in a Birmingham court when an unrepresented defendant did not follow court rules.
Mackrell Turner Garrett Solicitors in London
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