The Attorney-General’s Remarkable Letter

Dominic Grieve QC MP is the Attorney-General – the government’s chief law officer – and he has written a most remarkable letter (pdf) in reply to a letter from a number of barristers concerned about the Ministry of Justice’s current proposals for criminal legal aid.

The Attorney-General’s letter deserves to be read carefully, and in full.

There are several points to note.

First, it is perhaps significant that there is a letter from the Attorney-General at all.  Government ministers often get officials to reply to awkward letters: “The Minister has asked me to reply blah blah…”.  But not here.

Second, it is written in the first person.  There is no evasive reliance on the third person such as “the government’s position is clear blah blah”.  It is plainly a personal letter, and one which has been carefully crafted.

Third, the content of the letter is as unenthusiastic as it possibly can be about the proposals, consistent with the Attorney-General being a member of the same government as the head of the Ministry of Justice, the Lord Chancellor.

Indeed, the Attorney-General’s letter contains no endorsement of the Ministry of Justice’s proposals at all.

Fourth, the Attorney-General expressly states that he is taking the barristers’ concerns seriously and that he accepts fully opposition to the proposals cannot be explained away by self-interest.

This is an implicit acknowledgment that there is serious and principled opposition to the proposals which cannot just be attributed to mere selfishness.

And fifth, the last sentence of the Attorney-General’s letter seems to me to be rather revealing:

“I will endeavour to ensure, as far as I can, that the decision [the Lord Chancellor] reaches in due course is a fully informed one.”

This suggests to me that the Attorney-General is not personally confident that the Lord Chancellor is capable of making a fully informed decision.

If this is correct, then this indicates that the government’s own senior law officer does not believe that the Ministry of Justice will actually make a policy decision on an appropriate evidential basis.

So the Attorney-General has written a personal letter which acknowledges the principled opposition to the Lord Chancellor’s criminal legal aid proposals, which also avoids endorsing those proposals, and which hints that the final policy decision may not be based on relevant information.

This is astonishing stuff.

It would seem that the Lord Chancellor cannot convince even the government’s own senior law officer of the merits of the criminal legal aid proposals.

Hat-tips to Adam Wagner and Dr Mark Elliott (see post here).


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