Alex Carlile moved a motion in the House of Lords last night to annul the CDS (VHCC) Regulations 2013/2804 (the SI that brought in the recent changes to VHCCs).
You can read the whole debate here, but there were some excellent contributions. Lord Carlile, unsurprisingly, set out cogent reasons why the changes to VHCCs are wrong.
Next up was Baroness Deech. Whilst the Bar and the BSB may have much to disagree with, I am happy to say that her contribution was excellent – she points out the damage it will do to justice, as well as the unfairness of restrospective legislation such as this, and considers the damage that this will do to our international reputation.
I won’t summarise what each person said, but peer after peer (from the government and the opposition benches) got up to condemn the cuts. If I had to choose a favourite, it would be Lord Thomas of Gresford (a Lib Dem Peer) who spoke just after 10pm.
His closing words were sobering :
I am now leaving the Bar for various reasons. One reason is that I do not want to be around to watch the struggle that will take place at the criminal Bar and family Bar as chambers disintegrate because there is not enough income as a result of the changes that we have seen over these past few years. I just do not want to watch it. I do not want to have to deal with the sort of disintegration that I foresee.
I appeal to my noble friend Lord McNally to think again about these measures that are being brought in today, to consult properly on them and to take the advice of people who know what they are talking about. When I see some statements from the Ministry of Justice it annoys me so much because it is clear that they do not know what happens at the coal face. They do not understand how the legal profession works. I ask him to think again and take back these measures.“
And then Tom McNally rose to reply. Eloquent and persuasive it was not. As Richard Bentwood on twitter put it :
There was a slight change in tack from the usual mantra :
[when the latest rounds of cuts have been implemented] legal aid will have been cut from just over £2 billion to £1.5 billion. That leaves us with a legal aid expenditure about which I will not bandy words as to whether it is the most generous in the world, but it is an extremely generous allocation of money by the taxpayer
After this, the motion was withdrawn. As Lord Carlile did so, there are a few of his observations worth repeating:
[Lord McNally] read out a familiar litany, but it was a litany without a message save the message of mistake
He said in relation to what is going to happen to these VHCC cases, in which there are now no advocates, that “we will just have to see how this works out”. That took my breath away. It is an acceptance that there are now cases with no advocates, that there is no plan B for these cases and that the promises that the Government made to everyone that it would all be all right on the day have simply been shown to be wrong. I would never accuse my noble friend of being incoherent but the brief that he had was full of incoherence, and we saw it displayed this evening.
Which, in the rarefied world of the House of Lords, is the equivalent of a punch to the face in a pub brawl that left Lord McNally very much the loser (or should we now say ‘looser’?).