Over the last few months Gareth Johnson, MP for Dartford, has been actively involved in a series of public and private discussions with Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling MP, Secretary of State for Justice over proposed changes to Legal Aid.
Earlier this year the Government embarked on a consultation entitled “Transforming Legal Aid” with a view to reducing legal aid spending both in Criminal and Civil cases.
“As a nation, we need to live within our means. I therefore fully support him in the need to reduce spending across the Ministry of Justice and welcome some of the efforts which he has made in this regard. The consultation looked at withdrawing legal aid in cases where a claimant had not been resident in the UK for at least 12 months. This must be right. We cannot be seen to be operating a system where a person can come into the UK and, having contributed nothing to British society, is immediately granted legal aid to sue a government department over their treatment. I was also pleased to see that the Lord Chancellor proposed to end the availability of legal aid to serving prisoners wishing to make spurious complaints about their treatment. As a lawyer myself, I am very aware of the necessity of ensuring that the public have confidence in the system. This will only happen if we get the right balance of allowing access to legal assistance in appropriate cases and not in trivial matters so that the taxpayer’s interests are looked after and so are the interests of justice and fair play. “
The Lord Chancellor gave evidence to the Justice Select Committee today and was asked a number of questions by Gareth over some of the remaining changes. Specifically Gareth raised the issue of the right to ensure that the victims of crime are properly assessed and considered in any proposed changes to legal aid.
“I am keen to make sure that under any proposed changes to the system we do not leave defendants in a position where they have to cross examine victims themselves. It is important that defendants have access to lawyers, and the fact that the Secretary of State appreciates the importance of a defendant being able to choose a lawyer can only be a positive thing for the administration of justice. Delays not only impact on defendants but also the victims of crime. I want to make sure that the victims of crime are considered in these changes. Victims need to know that their cases will not be delayed through the system. I know first- hand that when a defendant trusts their lawyer they are more prepared to listen to sensible advice that their lawyer may give. I hope that these changes will ensure that those who are guilty plead guilty because they are satisfied with the quality of the advice they have been given. We need a system that encourages a speedy resolution to cases but ensures that justice is seen to be done”
It is anticipated that a further consultation on proposed changes will commence in the Autumn. Gareth is hopeful that the right balance can be sought between cutting costs and providing value for money to the taxpayer and ensuring fair access to justice for all.