Two giants of the legal profession have clashed over the issue of legal aid funding.
In a speech, Professor Michael Zander said that legal aid funding ‘will still be better then practically any other country in the world’ even after the cuts.
But the leading human rights barrister, Michael Mansfield QC latched onto the comments, saying: ‘It’s a myth to suppose that we are amongst the best-funded systems in the world.’
Mansfield said: ‘England has the best system in the sense that there are committed publicly funded lawyers but what he [Zander] does not appreciate is that those publicly funded lawyers cannot go on in the situation there are in.’
Zander, who was speaking at a launch event at Winchester University, said the cuts were terrible and would almost certainly damage the quality and quantity of criminal legal aid.
‘I am as worried as anyone about this development. I was living in the belief that this would not happen, that although civil legal aid may be cut, criminal legal aid was sacrosanct.’
But the cuts ‘do not detract from the fact that our legal aid system is amazing. So I’m gloomy but not in despair.’
Zander continued: ‘Will lawyers doing criminal legal aid work earn quite as much as they did before? Clearly not.
‘Will some of the top people, some of the QCs making a lot of money from criminal legal aid, drift off to other work? Well there isn’t any obvious other work that they can do.’
Zander said Chris Grayling’s actions were politically understandable: ‘If I was the Secretary of State, and was told by the Treasury, that I had to achieve a 20% cut then would I have done the same? Possibly.’
But Mansfield attacked government priorities: ‘We shouldn’t be spending money on wars that we shouldn’t be fighting in the first place.’
‘I am not going to be constantly browbeaten on the basis that we don’t have the money. If we want to spend money bombing the hell out of somewhere suddenly we’ve got the money.’
Justice Gap reporter and journalism student at the University of Winchester