The new justice minister, Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes, has been an outspoken critic of Chris Grayling’s legal aid cuts.

The surprise appointment of Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes as justice minister could lead to clashes with lord chancellor and justice secretary Chris Grayling, with the pair failing to see eye to eye on a number of key issues.

According to press reports today Grayling was 'taken aback’ by the appointment of the Lib Dem deputy leader to replace Lord McNally at the Ministry of Justice. 

Hughes (pictured) has been an outspoken critic of Grayling’s legal aid cuts. In June this year he condemned plans to deny criminal defendants the right to choose a solicitor. ‘In my view access to a lawyer/supplier of choice or preference is a fundamental right and it should not be removed by administrative means,’ said Hughes in his submission to the ministry’s Transforming Legal Aid consultation.

He also voted against the government on the use of 'secret courts' closed material proceedings and In June 2006 criticised Conservative proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act.

‘Cameron should not imply that we could give up being party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which is as much a product of British law as any other. Human rights are vital for all of us, not just for the prisoner and defendant, but for the parent, the child and the business person,’ he said.

Hughes has jointly authored booklets on human rights, the law, defence, and political realignment, and has introduced bills in parliament on empty property, access to information, and to require the Queen to pay income tax and to reform the rules of succession to the throne.

Hughes is also an advocate of liberalisaton of drugs laws, saying that addicts should be treated rather than punished.

In a statement following his appointment, Hughes said: 'I look forward to working in the MoJ and to contributing energetically to progressive and successful decisions and policies for the fairer and safer society which every Liberal Democrat wants to achieve.’

Nicola Hill, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association, said the body was ‘encouraged’ by the appointment. 'At a crisis point for legal aid, it’s time for Mr Hughes to show he stands up for vulnerable people’s access to justice and will enable their lawyers to provide them with a robust defence,' she said.

'It’s not too late for the government to rethink their devastating plans for legal aid.'