Government policies to cut legal aid, and to curtail judicial review and no-win, no-fee arrangements amount to an ‘assault on the critical checks and balances that any healthy democracy needs’, the shadow justice secretary has warned.
Sadiq Khan MP told an event to celebrate pro bono legal advice held by South West London Law Centres: ‘The government is systematically removing the tools that enable ordinary citizens to get justice.
‘By weakening these checks and balances, we risk the state becoming ever more powerful - ever more unwieldy and ever more likely to ride roughshod over the rights of the individual.’
Khan accused the government of ‘breathtaking arrogance’ in seeking to cocoon itself from challenges to its failings and mistakes.
Of the justice secretary, Khan said: ‘Chris Grayling has taken an oath as lord chancellor to uphold the law, yet he seems relaxed at presiding over a dismantling of the very infrastructure that the downtrodden, the suppressed, the wronged use to challenge abuses of power.
‘Unless things changes, this parliament could see the biggest reduction in the ability to hold power to account in living memory.’
Khan criticised Grayling’s media attacks on a small number of well-paid criminal silks, warning ‘it’s a Trojan horse. What he really wants to do is slash the budget’.
He said that while Grayling had his sights set on cutting criminal legal aid, he is not tackling areas that needed addressing.
Reiterating Labour’s claim that it would find savings that preserve access to justice, he accused Grayling of ‘not reining in the very high-cost cases… nor is he tackling the absurdities of millionaires like Asil Nadir setting aside their assets, then pleading poverty and receiving legal aid. Nor does it seem is he seeking efficiencies through re-tendering, as proposed by Labour.
‘Instead he’s using a full-frontal assault on what he calls fat-cat QCs as a way of justifying cuts to the overall budget. Using what a minority of legal aid lawyers earn to attack the entire system,’ said Khan.