Lord chancellor Dominic Raab has signalled that he will not be announcing extra cash for solicitors when the government’s response to the Bellamy legal aid review is published next week.
Raab was pressed on legal aid funding during his evidence session before the House of Commons justice select committee yesterday.
Asked by Labour MP Karl Turner about the prospect of solicitors taking industrial action, Raab said he did not think strike action would be the right thing to do.
‘I understand the pressure on pay and fees. But there’s a systemic point - if we agree to unsustainable, beyond-inflation pay increases, that will make inflation last for longer, that will undercut the poorest in whatever the sector is because inflation will stay higher for longer, plus the impact on interest rates. I also think, in the context of the [Bellamy review] and the way we accepted the overwhelming majority of recommendations, that we are coming up with a fair deal. 15% uplifts in fees, which is the obvious thing we’ve done, is well beyond the increase that many others in the public sector are getting.’
After it was pointed out that the government’s overall package for solicitors amounts to a 9% uplift, Raab said: ‘We accepted the recommendations. I think they were balanced. I don’t think the financial situation has got easier since the [Bellamy review] was published, it’s got more challenging. We need to do right by the professions. But putting more money into these areas now compared to what’s happening elsewhere in the public sector let alone the private sector, I’m just not convinced is the right thing to do.’
Raab said he would engage with the representative bodies. ‘What I can’t do is pretend there isn’t a very real-world choice that we face as a government in terms of the public finances and the envelope I’ve got and where that money should go. And I think if you want to make the case for more money then we committed to, tell me where it comes from. Does it come from the support that we’re providing for the victims of violent crime or indeed the victims of rape? Does it come from the drug rehabilitation money that we’re putting in, that I’m trying to protect? Does it come from the money I’m putting in to reducing reoffending by dealing with homelessness for prisoners? It’s got to come from somewhere.’
Raab appeared unhappy about the £54m deal that his predecessor, Brandon Lewis, struck with the Criminal Bar Association to end its members’ industrial action - but he said he would stand by the agreement.
The bar strike did 'significant damage', he said. 'I think the CBA didn’t behave in a responsible way. And I think that the £50m pressure that that has put on budgets on top of the autumn statement is something I’ve got to then find.
'Where would you say that £50m come from? Should it come from victim support? Should it come from drug rehabilitation? Should it come from education for prisoners? Those are the real problems in the real world that government ministers have to grapple with. So that money doesn’t just come out of thin air... But as I said, I want to proceed as a matter of good faith. I don’t believe in unpicking deals other people have done. That’s not good faith. So I’ll have to absorb that pressure. But don’t pretend that the money doesn’t come from somewhere. It does.’
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