Bar Council responds to legal aid consultation: MoJ is putting cuts before justice

1 November 2013

The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, has today responded to the Ministry of Justice's (MoJ) second consultation on legal aid cuts, launching a profound and reasoned criticism on the Department for putting instant savings above the long-term health of the justice system.

The Bar Council assembled a team of experts to assess the figures on which the MoJ's proposals are based. The MoJ has said that the main justification for the proposals in the consultation is to save money and argues that the legal aid bill in England and Wales is disproportionately high in relation to other jurisdictions. The Bar Council argues that the evidence shows that this is not the case and does not justify the proposed cuts.  The Bar Council's response also shows that the data upon which the MoJ relies for its calculations are flawed and, despite repeated requests, the MoJ has been unable to provide the data sets requested to enable it to contribute to the consultation properly.

Maura McGowan QC, Chairman of the Bar, said:

"Over a period of several months, we have entered into conversations with Government openly and honestly to try to find a resolution on legal aid which would protect the justice system. It is now clear that the Government has never sought to match that intention. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that it has put cuts before justice.

"What we have seen instead is the denigration of thousands of members of the profession, who work hard in the public interest, whether in civil or criminal courts, and have had to endure deeper cuts than anywhere else in the public sector.

"Ministers and civil servants have consistently quoted inaccurate figures on our legal aid spend per capita compared with other countries in order to apply a downward pressure on expenditure accordingly. We should be proud of our commitment to access to justice in upholding the Rule of Law. It would be astonishing if politicians looked for another country which spent less on healthcare than we do and concluded we ought to do the same. A high quality justice system which works in the public interest is worth paying for and in any event is more than outweighed by the huge financial contribution which legal services make to UK GDP.

"We set out a lengthy list of alternative savings in the first consultation, which have either been banked elsewhere or ignored. 

"The MoJ has not shared sufficient data with us to help us develop possible alternative fee models, it has used misleading figures to colour the public perception of publicly-funded barristers' true earnings and it has consistently failed to understand the damage which these cuts are doing to the global standing of our justice system.

"The proposed cuts are not predicated on real analysis or on a comprehensive impact assessment and certainly not in context of current legal aid spend nor against the background of the recent history of cuts in legal aid expenditure. The level of crime and of prosecutions has fallen and may well continue to fall.

"The integrity, excellence and independence of the Bar is respected all over the world. It is responsible for generating significant revenue for our country and for promoting English law as well as adherence to the Rule of Law. Our Government has not only failed to recognise this domestically but, by perpetuating negative stereotypes about the profession at home, it is damaging the democratic values of which we should all be proud."  

ENDS 

Notes to editors: 

1. The Bar Council's response can be found here. All previous materials relating to the legal aid consultation can be found here: http://bit.ly/YF89MA

2. For further information, please contact the   Bar Council Press Office on  020 7222 2525 or  Press@BarCouncil.org.uk .

3. The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes: 

  • The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services

  • Fair access to justice for all

  • The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and

  • The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board.