first_imgThe new justice secretary’s in-tray is bulging. He has already found his department fighting judicial review proceedings; dealing with a drafting error that has rendered new defence costs rules unenforceable; and overseeing the scrapping of a key LSC policy on very high cost cases. The judicial review and the drafting error both relate to the controversial policy of capping at legal aid rates the costs that can be recovered by acquitted defendants who have paid their lawyers privately. The Law Society challenged the legality of the policy in the High Court last week, claiming it did not provide reasonably sufficient compensation for expenses incurred, as is required by statute. Judgment has been reserved. Of course, the policy is not Clarke’s and the defective drafting did not happen on his watch. But it was of course open to him not to defend the proceedings and ditch the policy, accepting that it did not provide sufficient reimbursement. The fact that he chose not to do so means either that he agrees with the policy, which was designed to slash £25m a year from the legal aid budget, or that he has not yet addressed the issue. Meanwhile, the LSC has announced it will be scrapping the litigator’s panel for very high cost criminal cases (VHCCs). Both of those initiatives – capping defence costs awards and the VHCC panel – were key elements of the previous government’s drive to cut spending on criminal legal aid. The VHCC panel will be gone by the middle of July, with nothing as yet to replace it, and if the High Court agrees with the Law Society, the cap on defence costs orders will also go. This will leave the new MoJ with the task of finding other policies to cut legal aid spending, thereby fulfilling Clarke’ pledge to help address the fiscal deficit. Where is there left for the axe to fall?last_img