Claims that former lord chancellor Chris Grayling intervened personally to deny legal aid for potentially embarrassing public law claims were rejected ‘entirely’ by the Ministry of Justice today. News website Buzzfeed News reported that it had seen internal emails suggesting that in three high-profile cases challenging the government, legal aid was turned down once the Ministry of Justice became aware of applications to the Legal Aid Agency (LAA).
The cases included a successful challenge to controls on prisoners’ parcels - the so-called ‘book ban’ - introduced by Chris Grayling as lord chancellor.
According to Buzzfeed 'emails, marked “OFFICIAL SENSITIVE” reveal ministerial staff contacted the LAA to find out if legal aid had been granted in cases where they were the defendant.’ They include a memo sent on 4 April 2014 while Chris Grayling was justice secretary listing three cases with pending applications for legal aid that ministers needed to be briefed on.
A government spokesperson this afternoon said: 'We reject entirely the suggestion of political interference in the legal aid process. In fact, this government made changes under LASPO to ensure the director of legal aid casework is fully independent in their decision making.
'It is usual practice for information to be shared between an executive agency and the responsible government department in certain circumstances. This would not extend to confidential details of an application.
'As part of their inbuilt assurance processes, the LAA can review all legal aid decisions and change these if the application does not meet the relevant merits criteria.’
Grayling was replaced as lord chancellor and justice secretary in 2015. He is currently secretary of state for transport.