Friday, 21 May 2010

New legal aid minister

It's been a bit of a wait, but we now have a new minister with responsibility for legal aid. His name is Jonathan Djanogly and he is the MP for Huntingdon, John Major's old seat. Djanogly is a qualified solicitor and was a partner in a large commercial firm.

Yesterday the coalition government published its policy programme. Included in the section on justice is the commitment to ' ... carry out a fundamental review of legal aid to make it work more efficiently'. It is an unfortunate choice of words as legal aid watchers will be aware that we have previously had a 'Fundamental Legal Aid Review', or FLA as it became known, in 2004. The FLA got lost, though, as a final report was never published. LAG believes that ministers did not like what the civil servants had come up with. Instead we got the Carter review, ordered by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, and published in July 2006, the findings of which have been partially implemented over the last few years.

To be fair, in opposition the Conservatives did seem serious about trying to find new ways of getting money into the legal aid system, including a £200 contribution from all criminal clients and looking at 'polluter pays' methods of funding. So we will see what Jonathan Djanogly and this latest review of legal aid comes up with. Implementing new funding methods could be wrapped up in a new or amended Access to Justice Act, which could also deal with bringing the Legal Services Commission under the control of the Ministry of Justice as recommended by the recent Magee Review. Perhaps the Queen's Speech will contain details of this next week?

The really interesting part of the justice section of the coalition's plans is the commitment to a 'rehabilitation revolution'. The coalition wants independent providers, paid for by the savings made by introducing the policy, to reduce reoffending. Does this mean the prisons building programme is going to be put on hold and the savings made put into the scheme? Let us hope so. However, the programme also commits the government to a sentencing policy review. A harsher sentencing policy, if this is what is intended, would not necessarily sit easily with the planned 'rehabilitation revolution'.

Picture: Ministry of Justice

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