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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A very bad week for Christopher Stephen Grayling

We all have bad weeks. 

But it has been a particularly bad one for the first non lawyer Lord Chancellor for over 400 years. 

Was it only two months ago that he was proclaiming that it was a good thing that he was not a lawyer 

Last night, I actually missed part of Liverpool FC’s exit from the Champions League to witness the mauling which the House of Lords gave to Mr Grayling's proposals to restrict the right to bring Judicial Review proceedings. A key proposal would remove the power of judges to decide whether to hear such applications. In effect the right to bring proceedings against the Government will be controlled by the Government. This was roundly rejected by the Lords. Those opposing the move included a number of Tory and Lib Dem peers –

Grayling's advocate in the House, Lord Faulks QC, was increasingly ineffective in the face of relentless attacks, particularly from the masterful crossbencher, Lord Pannick. It doesn't matter how eminent a barrister you are, defending the indefensible is always a thankless task.

Further misery was heaped on Mr Grayling as he was forced to admit that he misled Parliament over the proposals. He had suggested that there was to be an exception to the rules barring applications whereby the court would retain discretion in certain circumstances. He wrote to Conservative MP, Geoffrey Cox, to confirm that he had ‘inadvertently’ said that this was the case when it fact it was not. So he was either misleading the House deliberately or had no idea what was in his Bill –

While we are on the subject of Judicial Review! Mr Grayling was told by the High Court this week that his appalling plans to ban books for prisoners was unlawful –

It is no wonder that he remains so anxious to abolish the right to subject the Government to review by the courts. Could he be trying to avoid the honour (ahem) of being the most judicially reviewed Minister in history?

All of this makes you wonder whether Cameron’s experiment in placing a career politician at the head of the legal system was such a good idea after all.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Access to Justice - its all about the money, money, money

It's not about the money, money, money
We don't need your money, money, money
We just wanna make the world dance,
Forget about the price tag

This is the first time that Jessie J has made an appearance on this blog. Or any other legal blog for that matter! When it comes to putting a value of Access to Justice her words are sadly wide of the mark. It seems that it is in fact all about the money, money, money.

That was certainly the impression given by top MOJ Civil Servant Ursula Brennan, when she gave evidence before the Public Accounts committee this week.

She confirmed that her department was given a mandate to cut the Legal aid Budget at all costs and that they were given no time to carry out any research into the possible impact of the cuts, which virtually wiped legal aid for the most vulnerable.

It was clear from her responses that no thought was given to the likely consequences. The overwhelming brief was to save the money from the legal aid budget regardless of whether this might be a false economy. This is something that most campaigners have been saying for the last couple of years.

What about the cost to the Court system of a deluge of litigants in person?

What about the cost to other public bodies who have to pick up the pieces?

What about the issues of quality as legal aid lawyers are forced into a race to the bottom on fees?

As one MP asked - ‘How do you know there is not £100m of mental health costs flowing from these reforms?’

This emphasises again the contempt that the current government has for our once proud justice system. I have talked before about where their true values lie –

Barrister Harriet Johnson tweeted this week –
‘Grayling: This isn't ideological; I HAVE to cut £220m from #LegalAid. We've no money. Govt: Sod it; have £15bn for some new roads.’  
That says it all! Money is found for some things. It is all about priorities. Access to Justice is a very low priority for our politicians.

This is something that we must force onto the agenda over the next 5 months.