The disclosure the Law Society successfully sought in a High Court application in its challenge to the government over legal aid is ‘directly relevant…to the judicial review claim as a whole’, a judgment has said.
In a hearing earlier this week the Law Society brought an application to amended its pleaded judicial review grounds as well as orders for specific disclosures. Mr Justice Fordham granted both applications following the morning hearing and delivered his reasons in a written judgment.
In R (on the application of Law Society of England and Wales v The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice the judge acknowledged that the application was made seven weeks before the trial, listed for this month.
He said: ‘Whatever it is that led to the five weeks passing before the application was listed, that is not down to the Law Society or its team. Having said that, the prospect of anything now imperilling the viability and effectiveness of the hearing in two weeks’ time, including the ability of the parties and the court to prepare for that hearing, is a matter of anxious concern. Nobody wishes the hearing to be imperilled. No application, or contingent application, has been made for any adjournment.’
Speaking of the disclosure requested by the Law Society, which includes legal aid scheme performance reports and provider activity reports covering nine ‘red light’ capacity risk areas, the judge said: ‘This material is, in my judgment, directly relevant…to the judicial review claim as a whole. If the lord chancellor is putting forward a positive case about the virtues of relevant arrangements – as, in my judgment, he is – then it is necessary in the interests of justice that the Law Society should be in an informed position to assist the court with any contrary contention.’
Earlier this year, the High Court granted the Society permission to bring the judicial review challenge against the government. The body sought the review after the Ministry of Justice did not increase criminal defence solicitors’ legal aid rates by 15%, as recommend by Lord Bellamy’s independent review.
The judicial review hearing will be held over three days this month.