There is an aspect of the current criminal legal aid proposals that ought to be brought to general attention. The proposal to deny the right of choice of lawyer runs contrary to government policy.
On 29 March 2012 the prime minister announced that he intended to enshrine in law the ‘right to choose’. It was announced that this would be included in an existing white paper addressing open provision of public services. On the same day, the government published a press release headed: ‘The right to choose the best public service at the heart of radical reform programme’.
David Cameron said then: ‘Nearly two years on from coming into office, brick by brick, edifice by edifice, we are slowly dismantling the big state structures we inherited from the last government. We are putting people in control, giving them the choices and chances that they get in almost every other area of life.
‘Open public services can only happen when citizens have a genuine right to choose, which is why as part of the next steps, today’s paper sets out how a right to choose could be enshrined in law and asks for people’s views on the impact that might have and what such legislation might look like. It is also why the government is launching an independent review to establish how choice can be extended fairly to the most disadvantaged in our society. Because public services aren’t truly open to all.’
The minister for government policy, Oliver Letwin, added: ‘The one-size-fits-all provision of the past, where people got what they were given unless they were wealthy enough to opt out is consigned to history. In a mature democracy such as ours, people must be given the right to choose the services they want and who to provide them.’
On 13 May 2013 I wrote to Letwin and Danny Alexander, the ministers spearheading these reforms, inviting them to explain how the current Ministry of Justice proposals could be compliant with government policy on choice. To date I have not had a reply. I feel that an answer may be forthcoming should the issue be raised more publicly. John Wesencraft, Crowe Humble Wesencraft, Newcastle upon Tyne