The chair of an all-party back bench committee which analysed the effects the legal cuts will have described Chris Grayling as a man who knows the price of everything yet the value of nothing. Jibes which were once said by the famous writer Oscar Wilde were several times aimed at the Justice Secretary when he spoke to give evidence before the Joint Committee on Human Rights as well as before Dr Hywel Francis.
The committee had a set task of examining the consequences of three restrictions on legal aid which the Justice Secretary is in the course of introducing. These are namely; limiting the scope of criminal legal aid available for prisoners, not allowing legal aid for people not resident in England and Wales for at least a year, and refusing to grant legal aid in cases with borderline prospects of success.
The committee stated that it was astonished the coalition government refuses to accept that the proposed legal aid reforms will have detrimental effects on the common human rights such as access to justice which includes in itself being able to obtain legal advice where necessary. The committee further believes that the basic constitutional requirement that legal aid should be made available in order to have access to the courts in relation to important and complex matters should be available, of course subject to various tests and limitations.
The report compiled by the committee showed clear evidence of political compromise as it did accept that the restriction of legal aid to those residing in England and Wales for less than a tear was in line with human rights principles. Further, the MP’s stated that measures. The committee aired their concern regarding the impact which the residence test is likely to have on vulnerable groups of people such as victims of domestic violence and children. The committee further made acknowledgement that the complaints lodged by prisoners may be resolved through an internal system with an ombudsman dealing with their concerns. The report did not agree with the state of the law which suggests that prisoners who have been detained and suffer abuse as to amount to a breach of their Article 3 rights are not eligible for legal aid in order to pursue compensation.
In regard to the concern for borderline claims the law in its current state does not provide effective and practical access to justice. Recommendations were made for the government to retain power to grant aid in such cases where it is deemed appropriate. For the moment, the reforms are set to take place unless there is a change of heart by the government of the Justice Secretary.