Delivering judgment on the lord chancellor’s controversial criminal legal aid reforms by the end of the month will be a ‘pretty tall order’, senior judges have said at the end of a three-day hearing in the High Court.
Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Cranston (pictured) heard legal challenges from the Law Society and practitioner groups the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association to Chris Grayling’s decision to press ahead with two-tier contracts for criminal legal aid.
‘We are under time constraints for judgment in this case but we are hardly going to get [judgment] tomorrow,’ Laws LJ said.
The tender process was suspended last month pending the outcome of the judicial review, following an application for interim relief by the CLSA and LCCSA.
Discussing the suggested possibility of giving judgment by the end of the month, Laws LJ said he and Cranston J had criminal appeals and further criminal division work to undertake, ‘so that’s a pretty tall order. We will do the best we can’.
Laws LJ has asked to receive written replies and submissions from counsel for all parties by Friday.
‘Ideally, we would have heard out the whole case but I can see no other way,’ he said.
CLSA chairman Bill Waddington said regardless of the judgment that is handed down, ‘we will continue to fight to preserve the principles of access to justice and equality before the law’.
‘In the year that marks 800 years since the signing of Magna Carta it is vital that we do not surrender these precious rights.’
The Ministry of Justice said the government inherited an unprecedented financial crisis which meant it had no choice but to find significant savings in everything it does.
‘We understand reform will not be easy for some lawyers,’ a spokesperson said. ‘That’s why we introduced a range of measures to support them and engaged in extensive consultation and dialogue with the sector for more than two years.’