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20/11/2007

Legal Aid. Could be clearer. Will be smaller.

The judgment in Minister for Legal Aid v Main, R (on the application of) [2007] EWCA Civ 1147 might be of limited general applicability, concerning as it does the provision of ‘special case’ legal aid funding for inquests, but one passage in the judgment caught my eye:

The relevant statutory provisions and the non-statutory material are somewhat complex. We were shown extracts from a “Legal Services Commission Manual”, which purports to explain the applicable directions and guidance. However, it confuses matters by mixing material from various sources without precise attribution. We were told that it has now been replaced by a clearer document. Meanwhile, we are grateful to Miss Nathalie Lieven QC for providing us with a guide to the guide.

Oh, we’ve all been there, my Lords, unfortunately usually without a helpful QC.

Meanwhile, buried in a small Observer article on Sunday, was the news that the Ministry of Justice is facing a 3% ‘efficiency saving’ (budget cut) across the board.

That includes the prison service – losing £180 million, the Courts – losing £102 million, Tribunal service – losing £39 million,  and, of course, the legal aid fund – losing £193 million.

Does this £193 million come from the fund alone? From the fund and the LSC’s operating costs? Just the LSC’s costs? We need to be told. If it is from the fund alone, this is a nonsense.

Add to that soon-to-be merged courts with reduced admin staff (as if the courts weren’t already in a slow collapse. For instance, has anybody had a non-standard Order drawn correctly recently?), and reduced funding for a prison service stretched beyond capacity. It looks like the Lord Chief Justice was quite right to be worried about budget pressures in the new MoJ hitting the courts, but it is no surprise that it is the Prison Service apparently leaking the document and the figures.

Words, or at least ones that the Times wouldn’t put asterisks in, fail me.

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

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