A cabinet split over plans to cut legal aid deepened last night as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg signalled his concerns for the first time.
The Liberal Democrat leader said it was ?perverse? to stop people choosing their own solicitor and claimed small high street law firms would suffer ? rather than the ?fat cat QCs? targeted by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.
Asked about the reforms by lawyer and Lib Dem activist Nick Thornsby in Manchester yesterday, Mr Clegg said: ?You could say it?s perverse that a Government with Conservatives in it is reducing public choice rather than increasing it.
?The only straitjacket on all of this is the need to yield about £220?million of savings in legal aid in criminal cases.
?But on the back of the consultation we should see if there are alternative, less disruptive, less unpopular ways of delivering that.?
The comments come after the Conservative Attorney-General came out on the side of lawyers who are angry at the changes.
Dominic Grieve said he could do little about the plan ? because ?policy in this area is owned by the Lord Chancellor, and not me?.
But he promised he would ?endeavour to ensure, as far as I can, that the decision he reaches in due course is a fully informed one?.
Mr Grayling?s plans threaten three-quarters of the UK?s 1,600 solicitors? firms and could cost an estimated 10,000 jobs ? as multi-million-pound contracts would be handed to firms offering the cheapest bid.
The Tory split has deepened even further with attacks by influential Tory backbenchers Dominic Raab and David Davis.
Mr Davis said that under the changes many recent high-profile cases that the Government lost would never have been fought ? including the Gurkhas and the Afghan interpreters who won the right to settle in Britain.
Mr Grayling?s proposals mean the only way such cases could be taken up would be if the lawyers who were suing the Government worked for free. The reason is a proposed residence test ? under which no one, British citizens included, can apply for civil legal aid unless they live in the UK.