Lord Irvine pushes for rights-based legal aid

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, has said the new Labour review of legal aid should give “the fullest possible weight” to providing legal aid as a matter of right, rather than making it dependent on a fixed budget.

The pledge is contained in the terms of reference for the inquiry, which will also look at civil justice reform and is to be headed by BZW chairman and Barclays Bank Deputy Chairman Sir Peter Middleton.

Middleton is also asked to consider whether Woolf's civil justice reform proposals “can be implemented without imposing costs which outweigh savings.”

The Bar Council, Law Society and Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) have all welcomed the review, which was announced last Friday. Law Society president Tony Girling said the debate had been polarised for too long.

Richard Miller, vice-chair of the LAPG said: “We hope the review will be a consideration of all possible ways forward.”

But some lawyers are worried that Middleton is a former permanent secretary of the Treasury. They blame the Treasury for the Tory's cash-limiting proposals for legal aid.