Treasury budget cuts behind law reforms, says Labour MPs

A rebel Labour MP has heavily criticised the Government over its legal reforms, which he claims are being driven by Treasury budget cuts rather than any altruistic desire to increase access to justice.

The comments, made by prominent MP Austin Mitchell on the eve of the Queen's Speech, will embarrass the Government, which has been at pains to point out that its reforms aim to cap rather than reduce the legal aid budget.

Mitchell told The Lawyer: “We are committed to a community legal service in our manifesto, but our changes up to now have been Treasury driven.”

This is at odds with comments made by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, who has continually taken the line that the Government wants to rein in spiralling legal aid costs, but does not want to slash existing budgets and reduce access to justice.

But Mitchell said the Government's legal reforms were “reducing” access to justice and said money from the budget cuts ought to be re-invested into other legal projects such as the Community Legal Service.

Mitchell's attack on the Government's legal policy is ironic because he has been one of Labour's sternest critics of the excesses of lawyers.

Lord Irvine's Access to Justice Bill, formerly referred to as the Modernisation of Justice Bill, is expected to include: plans for exclusive contracting for civil legal aid; an extension of rights of audience; proposals for the recovery of the success fee and insurance premiums in conditional fee cases; and the much vaunted community legal service.