Legal Aid

Law Society seeks judicial review over costs capping

PUBLISHED December 18, 2009

The Law Society is set to seek a judicial review of the government?s move to drastically reduce the legal costs that defendants can reclaim if they are acquitted of a criminal offence.

A regulation introduced by the Ministry of Justice at the end of October removed the power of the courts to refund ?reasonable? legal costs, and instead capped costs at legal aid rates.

The Society said that this rate is ?far short? of actual defence costs. It said people might be forced to defend themselves or face financial ruin, and that miscarriages of justice could result.

An early day motion opposing the change tabled by Tory shadow spokesman on legal affairs Henry Bellingham has been signed by 27 MPs. Law Society president Robert Heslett said that the Society has lobbied on the issue and he has written to all members of the Justice Select Committee urging them to oppose the change.

Chancery Lane has called on the government to reverse the regulation and said it will apply for judicial review if no satisfactory response is received. At the time of going to press, the Society was poised to commence proceedings as no response had been received from the MoJ by its 15 December deadline.

Heslett said that the Society has been left with ?little option? but to take legal action. ?We consider that the government has used powers granted to it by parliament for an improper purpose and that is the basis of our challenge. Sadly, in our view, the government has been steadily eroding access to justice for years.?

An MoJ spokesman said lawyers are able to provide a ?reasonable? though not ?premium? service at legal aid rates.