JUSTICE has today welcomed the wide-ranging House of Commons backbench debate on the Government’s latest proposals to restrict access to legal aid in Transforming Legal Aid. However, today we publish our correspondence with the House of Commons Justice Select Committee. We welcome the decision of the cross-party Committee to question the Lord Chancellor about restrictions to both civil and criminal legal aid.
The proposals for the reform of criminal legal aid will have a devastating impact on the operation of our criminal justice system and the ability of people without means to secure a fair defence. However, we are concerned that the wider implications for the rule of law of the civil legal aid proposals must not be overlooked by Parliament. By restricting the ability of individuals to hold public decision makers to account – by restricting access to legal aid for judicial review generally, and to prisoners and non-residents specifically – the Government proposes to shield public decision making from the transparency and accountability afforded by judicial oversight. These significant changes are proposed for little quantifiable financial gain and could lead to significant additional costs within the justice system and for other public budgets.