In an appearance in front of the Justice Select Committee this morning [15 July], Lord Chancellor Michael Gove (pictured) has confirmed plans to review the Legal Services Act 2007 as he pitched what he would like to achieve as Justice Secretary.
How to deal with offenders and the need to review the Human Rights Act were outlined as top priorities for Gove, as well as court reforms, including possible closures, to improve access to justice and increase efficiency.
However, in reply to a question from Conservative MP Alberto Costa, Gove also confirmed that, in this Parliament, the Ministry of Justice would conduct a review of the Act that created the current legal services regulatory framework including the Legal Services Board. In response to a follow-up, the Lord Chancellor said that currently: ‘There is a danger of regulators falling over each other’s feet.’
Acknowledging the vote held by Criminal Bar Association (CBA) in support of solicitors’ protest over legal aid cuts, Gove told the Justice committee: ‘Some of the reductions in legal aid expenditure have caused considerable concern.’
‘I don’t think that those people who have expressed concern about reductions in legal aid are motivated by self-interest; they are motivated by genuine concern about whether or not there may be, as a result of these reforms, some individuals who deserve access to justice who may not get it.
He added: ‘So I’m keeping a very close watching brief on what happens as a result of these legal aid reforms, but it was the case that too much taxpayers’ money was being spent on legal aid. There have to be reductions.’
However, he also said that part of his job is to help to reduce the UK deficit and warned that ‘there may be some very difficult decisions that we will have to take’.
Earlier this morning, the CBA announced its membership had voted in favour of no new legal aid work and ‘no returns’, in support of similar action taken by solicitors. Gove said he was ‘disappointed’ by the outcome of the vote which passed with 982 in favour to 795 against, or 55% to 45%.
The need to review legal aid comes after solicitors declined to take on new cases after the former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling introduced an 8.75% cut in fees for duty solicitors.
Gove also addressed the government’s planned review of human rights, which was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. He commented: ‘We need to have a look again at human rights and ensure we strike the right balance between protecting people but also to ensure that some of the concerns about how the human rights act has operated have been addressed.’