The Law Society has called on MPs to publicly scrutinise the consultation hastily set up by the government following the High Court's ruling this month that cuts to criminal legal aid had been introduced in a way ‘so unfair as to result in illegality’.
Society president Andrew Caplen has written to Sir Alan Beith, chair of the House of Commons justice select committee, proposing a one-off evidence session into the three-week consultation.
In his letter, Caplen said the Society is concerned about the quality of evidence used by ministers and the short space of time for the new consultation. He states that government-commissioned reports of the cuts' impact, by Otterburn LLP and KPMG, support arguments against the government’s plans.
He said: ‘Government proposals are based on evidence that fails to take into account the nature of criminal legal services today, as well as the realities of business in an economic environment still recovering from a deep recession.
‘Reports commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, and delivered by Otterburn LLP and KPMG, set out that in many areas, particularly in rural areas and in London, the current proposals will be extremely damaging.’
Caplen added that given the scale of the risk to the future availability of criminal defence services, it is a matter of public interest for the committee to question how the MoJ will address these concerns. He proposed a one-off evidence session to allow a detailed investigation.
The MoJ's consultation Transforming Legal Aid: crime duty contracts, closes on 15 October.