Sixth letter to the Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice.
Mr Chris Grayling,
27th June 2013,
Dear Lord Chancellor,
How you must have laughed, as I did, when your Minister for Justice, Lord McNally, said two days ago “I am incredibly proud of this country’s legal aid tradition and the legal profession which underpins it.” This from the man who is rushing headlong into delivering Price Competitive Tendering that will sell off part of the criminal justice system to big business. This from the man who called legal aid lawyers, who had replied to the MOJ consultation paper, but before the consultation had closed or the responses had been read, “hysterical”. He is like the Duke of Wellington declaring how incredibly proud he is of Napoleon and of the entire French cavalry on the eve of Waterloo.
Anyway, thank you for your reply, containing the following enclosures:
1. MOJ statistics bulletin for 2012-2013, dated 25th June 2013.
2. Legal Services Commission (LSC) Annual Report and Accounts 2012-2013, dated 25th June 2013.
3. European comparison table on justice expenditure, from the 2012 European Commission report on the efficiency of justice.
I know that you said in a letter sent to Tory party members on 19th April 2013 that we had “a legal aid system that costs more than two billion pounds a year, far more than in any other comparable or developed nation” and I remember the time you said that legal aid expenditure had “spiralled out of control”.
I read Lord McNally’s article, published in the Huff Post on 24th June 2013, justifying the MOJ proposed reforms because “we inherited a legal aid system of around 2 billion pounds a year”.
I heard George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Parliament yesterday telling the House of Commons that the MOJ had agreed to a FURTHER 10% cuts as a department because, amongst other reasons, in this country “legal aid costs two times the European average”.
I purred when I read and heard these statements because, of course, they are important facts to keep repeating given they go some way to justifying the MOJ’s radical shake-up proposals that nobody supports. But the three documents you have sent me are highly troubling. First, the MOJ statistics bulletin shows that legal aid spending has actually been going DOWN year on year.
• Total legal aid is down £330 million (from £2,237million in 2010-2011 to £1,1917 million in 2012-2013).
• Criminal legal aid is down £155 million (from £1,130million in 2010-2011 to £975 million in 2012-2013).
The Bar Council, the Criminal Bar Association and the Law Society kept saying to you, the MOJ and the Justice Select Committee: wait until the cuts introduced in October 2011 and February 2012 work their way through the system, then you will see a significant reduction in expenditure. Unfortunately it seems that they were justified. Who knew that they were in fact right? For goodness sake sit on this statistical bulletin if you can. Just keep repeating the same old government mantra and surely these inconvenient statistics will all just disappear into thin air.
Secondly, you sent me this year’s LSC Annual Report and Accounts. As you know the legal services commission administers the legal aid payments on behalf of the MOJ. The report/accounts reveal:
• The auditor general has qualified the LSC’s accounts (that is doubted that they are “true complete and fair”) due to irregular payments of about £30 million. That’s not a promising start!
• In addition the LSC’s administration costs have RISEN by £29.1 million between 2011/2012 (£82.1 million) and 2012/2013 (£111.2 million). But let’s look on the bright side, that unfortunate increase in cost to the taxpayer can be used to help justify further cuts to legal aid expenditure.
I suggest you ignore this completely; I’ve spread the report with marmite and the accounts with jam and fed it to my imps. It is no more.
Thirdly, the European comparison table is also inconvenient. As we in the know, know, the international comparisons touted around by you and other members of the cabinet are, of course, misleading. The inquisitorial system on the continent and the adversarial system in the criminal courts of England and Wales are fundamentally different. So to compare the defence legal aid costs of both systems is to compare apples with pears. On the continent much more is spent on judges and prosecutors who do much of the pre-trial investigating for BOTH sides. Also the system is so good in England and Wales (at the moment) that there are comparatively few appeals, (in the UK Supreme Court there are 12 judges, in the equivalent French Court of Cassation there are 125). The fairer comparison would be to look at public spending per inhabitant for all courts, defence legal aid and public prosecutors. Alas someone has done just that:
Public spending per inhabitant on courts, legal aid and public prosecutor (in euros).
This is, you will agree, a much fairer and more meaningful comparison. You must ruthlessly supress it or George Osborne will have to apologise for misleading Parliament, and you and Lord McNally will be made to look like mendacious berks.
Finally, on an existential note, a seminar has examined whether you actually exist or not. The Judicial Independence Project convened on 12th June 2013 on the tenth anniversary of Tony Blair, when Prime Minister, abolishing the office of Lord Chancellor, accepting the resignation of the incumbent Derry Irvine and creating a justice ministry instead. The House of Lords insisted that the title of Lord Chancellor be retained. But, although retaining existence as a name, the office was shorn of its judicial function and the speakership of the Lords. The only remaining role was the duty to uphold and protect judicial independence. Michael Turner QC said that your reforms will inevitably lead to a reduction in quality talent available to the bench in a few year’s time, and now the Lord Chief Justice has sent a letter to you, dated 9th May 2013, setting out judicial concerns about the court privatisation proposals saying, in an attached document, “no governance or funding models should be countenanced which threatened the independence of the judiciary”. You seem to be disintegrating the only remaining role that defines the Lord Chancellor’s existence. Some people at the seminar argued that the Lord Chancellor does not really exist anymore. Just a ghostly insubstantial figure remains.
Yours, disappearing with his two imps through a crack in the ground,