More changes needed

CILEx President calls on Chris Grayling to make more changes

02 July 2013

Nick Hanning, President of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, has welcomed Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s suggestion that legal aid clients will still be able to select their own lawyer, but stressed this is only one element of a raft of proposals that needed overhaul.

Nick Hanning said: “While I welcome the change of heart in respect of client choice, and thank the Justice Secretary for acknowledging that he is open to further changes, this concession does not go far enough. Chris Grayling has yet to address our concerns regarding weakening the judicial review system, introducing an arbitrary and unjustified residence test, and the undemocratic means by which these proposals are due to be introduced.”

He continued: “Particularly the proposals to limit legal aid for judicial review will undermine the rule of law. 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. If the Government is genuinely committed to a fair justice system with ‘fair outcomes’ in our democratic society, I expect it also to reconsider the proposal to limit legal aid for judicial review cases.”

He concluded: “The Justice Secretary must make the necessary amendments to these proposals to ensure access to justice is not diminished, and then present them for scrutiny before the democratically elected members of Parliament.”

In its consultation response, CILEx raised several concerns, including:

  • There is no empirical evidence provided to support the claim that the public have lost confidence in the legal aid system.
  • The proposal to remove funding from borderline Judicial Review cases is wholly unacceptable and risks undermining this crucial way of ensuring that state power is exercised responsibly. There are already procedures in place to filter out weak and unmeritorious applications.
  • Innocent people may be pressured into pleading guilty.
  • Cutting legal aid to those who do not satisfy the arbitrary ‘residence test’ would force particularly vulnerable individuals to go to court on their own to argue complex cases. Self-representation would be further complicated by language barriers and a range of issues commonly experienced by asylum seekers such as experience of trauma, mental and physical health problems, and isolation and cultural unfamiliarity with legal processes, making asylum seekers particularly vulnerable.
  • The introduction of such radical changes through secondary legislation so they will not be subject to proper debate and scrutiny in Parliament is enormously concerning.