Former justice minister supports calls for an immediate review of legal aid reforms.
If former justice minister Lord McNally is on Twitter he may be regretting backing calls for a review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO).
The Lib Dem peer wrote a letter in the Guardian yesterday, supporting a joint call by representative bodies such as the Law Society, Resolution, the Bar Council, Legal Aid Practitoners Group, Mental Health Lawyers Association, Shelter and the Law Centres Federation urging the government to review the impact of the legal aid reforms ‘at the earliest opportunity’.
The government has already committed to reviewing the policy, which reduced the scope of civil legal aid, three to five years after it was implemented on 1 April 2013.
It is fair to say that McNally's support was not immediately welcomed with open arms.
‘Anyone else think this massively hypocritical?’ one Twitter user asked in response to McNally’s letter. ‘Given what McNally did in govt, this is like a wolf calling for cross-party consensus on Red Riding Hood’s grandma,’ another declared.
Former Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association vice-chair Robin Murray tweeted: 'Too little too late from a minister who did nothing but assault legal aid and whose tone seemed gleeful about it frankly.’
The reason for the negative reaction? As McNally points out in his first sentence, he was indeed the minister who piloted the legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill through the House of Lords.
An apparent U-turn by McNally is a positive development
McNally’s suggestions, such as asking the legal profession 'what specific proposals they have to modernise their structures and end the restrictive practices which mean that the legal aid budget gets less value for the money spent that could otherwise be provided’ did not go down as well as he might have hoped.
Former London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association president Jonathan Black tweeted: 'Funny that! working under Grayling McNally…had no interest in talking of (sic) profession #wind.’
I can understand why lawyers may not feel like jumping for joy. But surely an apparent U-turn by the minister who steered the deeply unpopular bill through the Lords is a positive development.
Indeed not all responses to McNally's letter were negative.
‘Good to see former legal aid minister Lord McNally support our call for review of LASPO in letter to @guardian today,’ Resolution tweeted, grudgingly adding: ‘…although worth noting that, as minister, he steered original legislation through the Lords… .’
Monidipa Fouzder is a Gazette reporter