Andy Slaughter

Here’s another speech from Tuesday’s legal aid demonstration – this time from Labour’s shadow justice minister, Andy Slaughter.

I think those interested in the debate about legal aid are not only entitled to, but should, closely scrutinise Labour’s plans as well as the government’s. There’ll probably be a Labour or Labour-led government two years from now, so the future of legal aid is likely to be in Labour’s hands as well as this government’s.

What I want to see is honesty from Labour. This week’s new mood of realism about public spending from both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls must be reflected in what Labour says about legal aid as well as other areas of policy. If they really see legal aid as an exceptional priority, and intend to reverse Chris Grayling’s proposed cuts, then that needs to be spelled out.

But I don’t think Labour does or can take that view. As Adam Pogonowski has reminded me, Sadiq Khan said only last autumn on the fringe of Labour’s Manchester conference that

The reality is that in 2015, when we will hopefully win the election, we won’t be able to turn the tap back on and increase funding for the criminal justice system

To be fair to him, that was before Chris Grayling’s criminal legal aid plans were announced. But according to the Law Society Gazette, at that same meeting in Manchester

Khan did not directly answer a question about whether Labour would support further cuts to criminal legal aid, but he reiterated his party’s support for the introduction of price-competitive tendering for criminal defence services. He said that if it had been introduced, it would have saved money that have been used to fund legal aid in social welfare law.

Yet in this more recent article, Sadiq Khan, while criticising Chris Grayling’s detailed proposals, I think risks giving the impression that he opposes price competitive tendering altogether.

I want honesty from Labour. It’s reasonable for them to oppose the detail of Chris Grayling’s proposals, their timing and their full scale, while accepting much of their broad thrust and principle, and not proposing to completely reverse them. That’s more or less my position. And I support them if they plan, as Sadiq Khan has written

an urgent strategic review looking at the system in its entirety – from charge to prosecution to verdict – to examine whether our current system is fit for future challenges, rooting out inefficiency and bureaucracy.

That would fit with Ed Balls’s proposed “zero-based” approach to restructuring public spending if Labour gets in.

What’s not reasonable is for Labour to give the impression of being fully in agreement with Tuesday’s “Save Justice” demonstrators – most of whom are not, I reckon, minded to accept any significant criminal legal aid cuts – if they know that, in power, they’d accept many of the cuts being made now, or would make broadly similar cuts of their own, on a broadly similar scale.

It’s against that background that I think speeches from opposition spokesmen need to be heard.

2013-06-06T13:38:45+00:00Tags: , |