What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on recent changes to criminal legal aid.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, legal aid policy does not lie within the ministerial responsibilities of the Attorney General, but I have met the Secretary of State already and will do so regularly to discuss matters of common interest in respect of our departmental responsibilities. As Attorney General, I have a particular interest in the legal professions, and I am concerned to ensure that the professions’ standards remain high and that they are able to attract entrants of the highest calibre. To that end, I am pleased that the Ministry of Justice continues to make provision of £1.6 billion a year in legal aid. It has recently allocated an additional £15 million to the advocates’ graduated fee scheme for Crown court representation. It has published its proposals, and I hope that they will be welcomed by the criminal Bar.
Anyone who cares about the legal aid system will be aware that there are challenges. The Scottish Government have undertaken a review of legal aid to make the system simpler, more flexible and more cost-effective. Will the Attorney General discuss with the Justice Secretary undertaking a similar review and following the recommendations of the Justice Committee report on that?
I am aware of the Scottish Government’s review and will be interested to see the Scottish Government’s response, which I understand is still awaited. We are carrying out our own review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. It is a careful review of the policies and choices made in that legislation. Evidence is currently being gathered. A second round of meetings took place in July, and over 80 organisations have already engaged with this. The evidence is due to be submitted by the end of this month, and we will publish the review later this year.
Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that a sufficient number of criminal legal aid lawyers can provide suitable coverage across the country?
The Legal Aid Agency maintains a watch on this. The number of offices and solicitors’ firms to which franchises have been granted has increased. However, we clearly need to maintain a close watch on this. In my capacity as being interested in the prosperity, welfare and health of the legal professions, I shall certainly keep a close eye on it.