Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Government moves to take direct control of the LSC

The government has announced that it intends to abolish the Legal Services Commission (LSC) and change it to an executive agency under the direct control of ministers. The LSC's chief executive Carolyn Regan has resigned from today and an interim chief executive, Carolyn Downs, has taken her place. LAG understands that the LSC commissioners will continue in post until the Access to Justice Act (AJA) 1999 can be amended.

The LSC is currently a non-departmental public body with its own governance which is separate from ministerial control. As an executive agency it will be under the direct control of ministers. This could lead to political interference in decisions on entitlement to legal aid. LAG believes that there will have to be an independent appeals mechanism for the government to comply with article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In our view it is not enough for the government to give assurances about internal procedures to prevent ministers from interfering in decisions. With the direct control of the department making the decision they could give the appearance of involvement. Procedures for granting legal aid need to be above such a suspicion or the justice system risks being undermined.

LAG understands that the details of the new administrative arrangements need to be worked out and the AJA amended to change the governance of the LSC. This will have to happen after the general election, but by ousting Carolyn Regan and replacing her with Carolyn Downs, who is Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, the government appears to have asserted control of the LSC, thus making the commissioners chaired by Sir Bill Callaghan lame ducks.


Wiltshire solicitor said...

I share your concerns about concerns about the government taking direct control of the LSC. I suspect however there is another potential consequence -- it should make it even easier for the government to continue slashing legal aid rates of pay, driving more and more solicitors away from legal aid and reducing access to justice.

ObiterJ said...

I would agree with Wiltshire Solicitor. There can only be one reason for government to do this and that is to have more direct control over legal aid.

Of course, there is already Ministerial involvement. Straw has granted legal aid to the families of those killed by the bomb in London. Of course, all the public bodies were able to pay using public funds but the families have had top fight. Nice of Straw is it not.