NewsBites - July 2013

Treasury counsel speak out
Barristers briefed by the Government have condemned the impact of its legal aid proposals as “unconscionable”. In an open letter to the Attorney General Dominic Grieve MP QC (4 June), 145 Treasury counsel said that they were well aware of the ways in which judicial review claims “can prove a source of frustration for government” but said that its proposals would undermine the accountability of public bodies.

The Lord Chancellor has proposed that public funding be removed from ‘borderline’ cases with a less than a 50% chance of success, but the signatories claimed that there was a “misconception” in the consultation paper as to the level of certainty which is achievable when advising on the outcome of claims. The barristers, who regularly act for central government departments, said that introducing a residence test for civil legal aid risked the creation of “an underclass of persons within the UK for whom access to the courts is impossible” which “is in our view unconscionable”.

“Think again,” say 90 QCs
Ninety Silks specialising in judicial review urged the Government to reconsider its proposals in a letter to the Daily Telegraph (29 May). The group – including former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith QC, former Director of Public Prosecutions Lord Macdonald QC, Lord Pannick QC, Lord Lester QC, Baroness Kennedy QC and Cherie Booth QC – wrote of their grave concern that access to judicial review was under repeated threat. “The cumulative effect of these proposals will seriously undermine the rule of law, and Britain’s global reputation for justice. They are likely to drive conscientious and dedicated specialist public law practitioners and firms out of business. They will leave many of society’s most vulnerable people without access to any specialist legal advice and representation. In practice, these changes will immunise Government and other public authorities from effective legal challenge,” the QCs said