Labour peer hits out at Justice Secretary and brands legal aid residency test 'nasty'

Lord Jeremy Beecham said the Justice Secretary is playing to right wingers in the run-up to the 2015 General Election

Lewis Arnold Former council leader Lord Beecham at Newcastle Civic Centre
Former council leader Lord Beecham at Newcastle Civic Centre

Moves to refuse legal aid to people who have lived in Britain less than a year have been branded ‘nasty’ by a North East lord.

Labour peer Jeremy Beecham also accused Justice Secretary Chris Grayling of “blast[ing] on the political dog whistle” and playing to the political right as he tries to push through his controversial reforms.

Lord Beecham’s speech in Parliament comes as the tough-talking Tory faces growing opposition over the residence test.

Mr Grayling is appealing a High Court ruling which rendered the test illegal and labelled it an “instrument of discrimination”.

Meanwhile, the all-party Committee on Human Rights said the test, which applies to children over 12 months, could be a breach of human rights.

But Lord Beecham said the Justice Secretary has ‘written off criticisms as left wing campaigning’ during a debate on judicial reviews - another legal provision Mr Grayling is attempting to limit.

He said: “The Lord Chancellor, who seems to think judicial review cases are the province of left wing pressure groups, chooses to overlook that such cases brought by reputable civil society organisations make up 0.46% of this caseload, a mere 50 cases in 13 years.

“One case they did bring touches on one what must rank as the nastiest change the Government is pursuing, the introduction of a residence test for legal aid, which would apply to judicial review and to most other areas of law.”

Sean Dempsey/PA Wire Justice Secretary Chris Grayling
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling
 

He also said the Government must reveal how many children could be affected by the test and how much it would save.

Lord Beecham said Mr Grayling was wooing right-wingers as the party attempts to secure votes ahead of the 2015 General Election.

He said: “The Government in its perennial search for votes from the right is, of course appealing.

“A less appealing prospect than this Government, and this Lord Chancellor remaining in office and continuing to dismantle our system of justice is hard to imagine.”

The Justice Secretary has insisted his reforms will bring balance to the legal system and will save money.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: “It is crucial that judicial review continues to hold authorities and others to account for the right reasons.

“It should not be abused by people to cause delays or to generate publicity for themselves or their organisations at the expense of taxpayers.

“Our reforms will bring balance to the judicial review system so justice is done, but unmerited, costly and time-wasting applications no longer stifle progress.”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer