The Ministry of Justice has claimed that an ‘email glitch’ is to blame for many barristers and solicitors receiving a message telling them that their response to the Transforming Legal Aid consultation has been ‘deleted unread’.
The Gazette, together with the Law Society, Bar Council and other practitioner groups, have reports about the problem, which arose after respondents contacted the ministry in advance of the 4 June deadline. It came to light as the ministry launched a £160m strategy to improve its delivery across the court system.
An MoJ spokeswoman told the Gazette: ‘We have been made aware of an IT glitch which generates this message erroneously, and are working to resolve it.’
The ministry did not provide further details of the problem, but said it is ‘not widespread’.
The spokeswoman sought to reassure lawyers that all of the 16,000 responses are being processed and read by MoJ officials, although the number of people doing this was not revealed.
She said: ‘We have been contacted by some people concerned that we have not received their response as a result of this message. On each occasion we have been able to reassure them we have received and are reading their consultation response.
‘If anyone has concerns they should contact us and we can ensure we have their response.'
The ministry has set up an email that can be contacted by anyone who has received the message. Email Legal Aid Reform.
The Law Society said: ‘We know the government received 16,000 responses to its consultation. We expect everyone of those 16,000 to be properly considered.’
spokesman for the Bar Council said it will take the issue up with the MoJ.
Some lawyers were more outspoken. Bill Waddington, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said: ‘Reading all 16,000 will be a challenge – maybe one of the easiest ways to keep to the timetable would be to delete some of them.’
Solicitor Julian Young, one of those who had received the ‘deleted unread’ message’ alleged that the problem ‘calls the integrity of the whole consultation into question and brings the MOJ into disrepute’.
He called for an ‘independent audit and oversight’ of the ministry’s procedures for processing and dealing with the responses.
Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association Michael Turner QC said: ‘It’s either that the ministry has deleted responses or that it a virus, but it would be a very odd virus that just sent the message to some people and not others.
‘Either way they have serious egg on their face’ he said.
The president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association Akhtar Ahmad called for further reassurance from the ministry that no responses had been deleted and that all would be read.