High court rules legal aid cuts are unlawful

August 3, 2018

In a welcome judgment, High Court judges have today criticised the Ministry of Justice and ruled that controversial legal aid cuts are unlawful.

The Law Society, R v The Lord Chancellor, the court quashed new regulations cutting payments for document-heavy Crown court cases, which the Society argued amounted to a 37% reduction in fees.

The 2017 regulations were deemed unlawful because the key analysis relied on in making the decision was not disclosed to consultees, rendering the consultation process unfair.

Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said: “This is a significant ruling. Criminal solicitors provide a vital public service. We have consistently warned that this fragile criminal legal aid market cannot stand further cuts.

“The changes to the Litigators Graduated Fee Scheme (LGFS) were introduced in December 2017 and have meant a huge amount of work on the most complex crown court cases has gone unpaid.

“Defence solicitors have faced earning up to 37% less for some large cases, yet the Legal Aid Agency has expected them to undertake precisely the same amount of work.”

The High Court strongly criticised some of the arguments put forward by the Lord Chancellor, commenting: “It is difficult to express in language of appropriate moderation why we consider these arguments without merit. The first point, which should not need to be made but evidently does, is that consultees are entitled to expect that a government ministry undertaking a consultation exercise will conduct it in a way which is open and transparent.”

Lord Justice Leggatt and Mrs Justice Carr DBE concluded that the calculation was “a flawed analysis on which no reasonable authority would have relied.”

Tom Handley, Chief Executive at Exchange Chambers said:

“We welcome today’s ruling and congratulate the Law Society for bringing this successful legal challenge.  The legal aid market simply cannot take further cuts.”