Eleventh Letter to the Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice,
Mr Chris Grayling,
28th January 2014,
Dear Lord Chancellor,
Let me congratulate you on your Transforming Legal Aid response to the consultation, published yesterday. I think that my imps did a pretty good job cloaking its savage implications under a veneer of reasonableness. You have listened to your opponents and ignored them all: bravo!
It estimates that your cuts to the legal aid fee scheme (AGFS) will save £130 million per year and, combined with your other savings, reach your Treasury-set target. The small print shows that there has already been a reduction last year of £126 million in criminal legal aid spending in any event. Don’t let anyone find out, or people will know you can make the required savings and prevent the justice system from being destroyed. That clearly would not be in the public interest. You said in the consultation paper on judicial review dated September 2013 that only “Parliament and the elected government are best placed to determine what is in the public interest”. How right you were.
Some people wouldn’t understand that:
• £130 million savings per year and wrecking the criminal justice system, and
• £576 million, sanctioned by the Treasury, paid out in bonuses to bankers in 82% state-owned RBS, after losing £8billion last year, is entirely defensible.
Only the elected government can understand the deep mysteries of what is in the public interest, and only Ministers of the Crown can be trusted to spend wisely tax payers’ money. I see that you are the principal speaker at a conference on 11th March 2014 run by the Policy Exchange called “Privatising Justice: Myths, Threats and Opportunities with Chris Grayling.” Perhaps you could ruminate on your stirring ideas about the public interest then.
The letter you sent to the Bar Council accompanying the Transforming legal aid response was a master-stoke of unctuous deception. The MOJs “good news” tweets yesterday came in the same mendacious vein. It all seemed so reasonable and full of heart-warming understanding and sympathy. I think you must have been reading my classic handbook Double-speak euphemisms for Government Ministers, which I co-authored with Robert Mugabe and Eric Honecker, some years ago. I spotted a number of words and phrases that you have used and I can translate their full meaning:
Transforming = (as in) a butcher “transforms” a lamb into a carcass
Financial reality = Right wing ideology
I have no choice = George Osborne wanted it
Challenging = Come on if you’re hard enough
Period of transition = Arbitrary cut
Sustainable future = Arbitrary cut
Cost effective = Arbitrary cut
Modernisation = Arbitrary cut
Reform = Arbitrary cut
Justice = Politics
“Constructive engagement” = Des Hudson keeps his £420,000 per annum salary
Your phrase “I have done everything I can to reduce their [the changes] impact on the bar” is the equivalent of you pushing a man into the river and holding him under, once drowned you kindly help him onto the river bank and considerately place a shroud on his head.
Some of the highlights, for me, from your response:
1.) In a parody of a lawyer presenting their case, you have provided evidence supporting your decision, by publishing a report by KPMG and Otterburn Legal Consulting. Alas, KPMG “casts grave doubts” on whether the changes are workable in practice and they predict that in London the procurement exercise may collapse. There are 210 procurement areas in London and 315 outside London. So you have not listened to the evidence of your own experts.
2.) KPMG analysed, for you, the profit margins of solicitors firms:
• Large rural firms -6%
• Large urban firms 9%
• Large London firms 10%
And then you announced cuts of 17.5%.
3.) You have proudly stated that there will be a full review of the new AGFS in September 2016. By that time the government will have changed, you will not be in office and all the good lawyers will have left. It shouldn’t be a long review.
4.) Annex E – in murder trials a led junior gets more than a junior acting alone.
5.) The impact on Carbon Dioxide levels of your response is said to be nil. One of the causes of CO2 is decomposition. Has the MOJ measured the levels of decomposition by the burning of all the 2,317 unfavourable consultation responses?
6.) Page 46, paragraph 116, “advocates may decide to leave criminal legal aid work as a result of the reform”, but the increase in work for those who remain will be a good thing and so talented lawyers will come in to take up the extra work. Self-deception is a wonderful thing.
7.) After the first consultation you stated that PCT was dead. However by reducing the number of solicitor firms from 1700 to 525, having procurement areas, and saying (in Annex C) “we will not limit the types of organisation that may bid for either contract” you open the door to Stobarts; is this not PCT by another name? You also trumpeted retaining client choice; the clients of the 2/3 of firms going bust, will not have their choice of solicitor will they?
8.) You say that “in my view there are clear limits to how far fees can be cut”. In VHCC cases you have not only found that limit, but you have cut the fees to an even lower level and no barrister can be found to work at those rates. Is the same to happen with this AGFS scheme?
So many congratulations, you have at last achieved a justice system that will benefit the rich and not the poor. You have provided the conditions that will mean private defence fees will be the only way to get good representation, so bringing the joys of the market to criminal justice. You have struck at the root of the independent criminal bar that brings integrity and objectivity to the system. You have betrayed a way of delivering justice you swore to protect. Simon Hughes and Lord Faulks, both MOJ ministers critical of your plans now implemented, should resign immediately if they have any integrity. Ministers are dispensable, justice is not. What a day for the history of the rule of law, in a country that pioneered trial by jury and the common law that was transposed around the world, when a Lord Chancellor puts his name to a document such as this.
Yours, raging against the dying of the light,