The government is to allow a parliamentary airing of its plans to reform legal aid fees, backtracking from its previous position that changes to the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS) would be rolled out without scrutiny.
Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom MP announced this morning that a motion relating to a statutory instrument on criminal legal aid will be considered on Tuesday 8 May. Earlier this week the government was criticised by the speaker John Bercow MP for failing to provide time for a debate on the reforms, which have prompted hundreds of barristers to refuse new work in protest.
The Gazette understands that a motion to revoke the regulations will be put down today. If there is sufficient cross-party opposition to the reforms on 8 May the revised AGFS scheme could be overturned.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon told the Gazette: 'It is right that the government has finally accepted that it cannot force through these controversial criminal legal aid changes without parliament having its proper say. Labour pressure, and the damning comments of the speaker, have forced the government to climb down and end its previous intransigence. But it remains wrong that the government did not come forward with a proposal for a binding vote, which could have annulled this regulation, within the required 40-day period.’
'If the Commons rejects these changes in the forthcoming vote then the government has no authority to proceed and it must pull them,’ he added.
Earlier this week the Gazette reported that Bercow had criticised a ‘regrettable state of affairs’ after the government failed to provide a time for a debate and vote on the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) Regulations 2018, which implemented the reforms.
The AGFS scheme was initially passed under a negative procedure statutory instrument on 23 February. Such instruments become law without debate unless they are challenged.