Michael Gove has stated the proposed reform to the legal aid system in England and Wales has been scrapped. This would have involved cutting the number of law firms permitted to undertake legal aid work at magistrates’ courts and police stations by approximately two-thirds. Additionally, cuts of 8.75 per cent to the fees that lawyers can earn from legal aid work have now been suspended for one year. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice stated that “the spending review settlement we have reached with the Treasury for the next five years leaves legal aid almost untouched”. These proposed cuts were originally made by the former Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling. The aims were to bring an economic benefit and consolidate the system, but were criticised by The Law Society as leaving large parts of the country without access to legal representation.
It has been scrapped due to the volume of legal objections to the proposal, with lawyers complaining that if such reforms were introduced, they would damage access to and the quality of justice. The Ministry of Justice face ninety-nine independent legal challenges in response and Michael Gove has stated that he does not want the legal aid system to be faced with years of uncertainty and costly and time-consuming litigation. Lord Falconer has stated that “the government must now come clean about how much public money has been wasted on this doomed endeavour, so that ministers can be held fully accountable for this fiasco”. The scrapping of these reforms will likely be positively received by lawyers.