Legal Business Blogs

‘Terrible news for society and for our profession’: High Court dismisses judicial review to legal aid

The Law Society received a blow today (18 February) as its challenge to the government’s controversial plans to overhaul criminal legal aid was dismissed in the High Court.

Bindmans was instructed by the Law Society while Kingsley Napley acted for the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) as the organisations attempted to bring a judicial review against the Lord Chancellor’s proposals. The proposals will affect the provision of criminal legal aid services by solicitors and include cutting the number of duty contracts and cutting fees. All three bodies have already stated their intention to challenge the decision.

The claimants had argued that the government’s changes would severely undermine the criminal justice system and leave inadequate access to legal representation to societies’ most vulnerable. ‘We are extremely disappointed at this outcome,’ said Law Society president Andrew Caplen. ‘Access to legal advice is a fundamental human right, the absence of which undermines our society.’

The Law Society argued that the justice secretary failed to take into account or misunderstood the impact of the availability of investment and financing needed by solicitor firms, and that as a result they will ‘continue to campaign for an effective, publicly-funded defence system to prevent the risk of a sharp increase in miscarriages of justice.’

Kingsley Napley partner Adam Chapman instructed 11 KBW’s Jason Coppel QC, Christopher Knight and Rupert Paines on the case while Bindmans partner John Halford instructed Blackstone Chambers’ Dinah Rose QC, Ben Jaffey and Tristan Jones.

The Lord Chancellor turned to the Treasury Solicitor, which instructed Brick Court Chambers’ Martin Chamberlain QC, Temple Garden Chambers’ Nicholas Moss and 1 Chancery Lane’s Simon Murray.

In a statement, CLSA chairman Bill Waddington and LCCSA president Jonathan Black said: ‘The result of both judicial reviews is terrible news for society and for our profession. The impact on many of our members if this tender process goes ahead will be devastating. Many firms have been considering their future in the new legal aid duty contracts market and cannot see a way forward. This will be a further nail in the coffin for access to justice for vulnerable people.’