Law Society wins disclosure bid before legal aid challenge

The Law Society has won its bid for specific disclosure and amendments ahead of the upcoming court battle over the Ministry of Justice’s alleged failure to implement recommended changes to legal aid.

Mr Justice Fordham granted the Law Society of England and Wales its application in relation to a judicial review challenge listed for next month. Written reasons will be provided at a later date.

The judge said: ‘I am going to allow the application and allow the application in all respects. I am not adjourning the trial.

‘I do require the parties to operate speedily on an arrangement which will allow for disclosure to take place, I hope, straight away.

‘What I want to achieve is the preservation of the hearing.’

The application in R (on the application of Law Society of England and Wales v The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice means the government will need to provide specific disclosure relating to provider activity reports and scheme performance reports.

Tom de la Mare KC, for the Law Society, highlighting parts of the disclosure the body says it needs, said: ‘These are the control reports, the crown jewels, of which the secretary of state says, “this provides the data by which we satisfy ourselves”.

‘This is really the heart of this case. The secretary of state invited you to shut the door just before we got to the stable. You cannot see whether there is a horse or not because the door has been shut. We’re just told there is a stable.’

Sir James Eadie KC, for the lord chancellor, told the court some of the disclosure requested was commercially sensitive and ‘there is a concern, you cannot just say “confidentiality” and that is the end of it’.

He added: ‘We are not averse to confidentiality. We recognise it might be a way of managing the problem. It still increases the burden someone will have to do in working out which of those documents do or do not need to be put into the open public domain.’

Earlier this year, the High Court granted the Law Society permission to bring the judicial review challenge against the government. The body sought the review after the government did not increase criminal defence solicitors’ legal aid rates by 15%, as recommend by Lord Bellamy’s independent review on criminal legal aid.

The hearing will be heard next month.


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