Tory win sounds death knell for criminal bar, predicts top QC

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By Judge John Hack on

Return of an even more powerful and unfettered Chris Grayling to the woolsack does not bode well for wannabe legal aid lawyers


Perhaps the loudest groans of pain during the unveiling of last night’s shock election results will have emanated from criminal law legal aid lawyers.

A Conservative majority is likely to unleash scything Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling even more forcefully onto the legal aid system. Unconstrained by any whiff of Liberal-Democrat interference, legal aid lawyers will fear that slasher Grayling intends to ensure the end is nigh.

And now a leading criminal law silk has given credence to that speculation. Dinah Rose QC — an outspoken critic of the last government’s legal aid reforms and a tenant at Blackstone Chambers in the Temple — responded earlier today to a plaintive tweet from a wannabe barrister.

Their fears were heightened by the election result in Surrey stockbroker belt constituency Epsom and Ewell. Grayling not only held the seat, but he increased his majority by some 2,400 votes to a whopping 33,300.

And just to rub salt into the gaping wounds of legal aid practitioners, Grayling used his victory speech to flag his desire to get back to his desk at the Ministry of Justice as soon as possible.

To bag such a muscular majority as did Grayling, it must be a safe assumption that the locals are dead keen on a bit tough love for legal aid.

And the Human Rights Act might be next in the rampaging Justice Secretary’s crosshairs, predicts the Independent candidate that stood against Grayling, local solicitor Lionel Blackman.

“My vote of 612 is neither here nor there,” said a modest Blackman in a post-election musings e-mail to Legal Cheek. “I hoped, by endorsing Labour, Liberal and Green candidates in my literature and website, to build a majority of votes for pro-Human Rights Act candidates.”

He continued:

“Our work is really cut out to protect it. Let’s hope that the next parliament will not have a majority for repealing the HRA.”

But one barrister is already predicting the end of that legislation. Adam Wagner of One Crown Office Row in the Temple recently launched the website RightsInfo; and today he unequivocally forecast that the Tories will ditch the act and replace it with a new bill of rights.