The Lord Chancellor - otherwise known as the Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling MP came to Castle Park on Friday to discuss with local solicitors his proposed reforms primarily directed to saving around 12% of the costs of the Justice system.
As you may know I am a solicitor. Neither my personal practice, not that of my business any legal aid work - as such I am not directly affected by the proposed reforms although I do have views about the proposed changes.
I listened to the debate intently. Several things impressed me. First, whatever your views on the legal aid reforms Chris Grayling is very much on-top of his brief. He struck me as someone who, with his department had seriously considered what was necessary to save significant sums of money and, where appropriate raise revenue streams. He is conducting a root and branch review of all aspects of his department's expenditures, from the criminal and civil courts, from prisons to probation and to legal aid.
Second he seemed genuinely interested in having a proper debate. He said he was in 'listening mode' and he spent most of the time with us listening to the views of solicitors, a barrister and a district judge.
He did listen, he debated and encouraged each lawyer present to make representations to him directly.
My legal colleagues raised serious concerns about reforms to civil and criminal legal aid and the knock on effects both on justice and the administration of justice. Reforms to family law and family law representation were also raised.
I had a private chat with him later that day - I raised a number of issues with him - and I have been invited to correspond directly with him. My concern is to ensure that solicitor's rights of audience which we have had since the 1970s to appear in the Crown Court on disposal (ie sentencing) hearings should be preserved. The removal of this right increases costs and bureaucracy for a private paying defendant without necessarily improving the quality of representation. Why hire a second lawyer - a barrister - when it isn't needed?
The representations made at such hearings are solely in front of a judge - and can, in my view, often be done very effectively by a specialist solicitor. I have done it for years!
I have to say it was really impressive to have the Lord Chancellor come to Castle Park and spend time with us in a real debate.