UK: Legal aid report author Bellamy appointed justice minister

The UK Law Gazette reports

The author of a report urging the Ministry of Justice to increase spending on legal aid has been appointed a justice minister.

In a brief announcement today, Downing Street confirmed that Sir Christopher Bellamy QC has been made the parliamentary under secretary of state in the MoJ.

Bellamy will be conferred a peerage for life so he can sit in the House of Lords and represent the government on justice policies in that chamber.

He effectively replaces Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (David Wolfson QC) who resigned as a minister in April in response to the prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer receiving fixed penalty notices over a Downing Street gathering during lockdown.

Practitioners have criticised government for not implementing reforms backed by Bellamy

Bellamy, 76, a former Linklaters partner, is believed to be the oldest minister in the government by more than three years.

He recently led the government-commissioned review into criminal legal aid which concluded in December 2021 that the sector needed a minimum of £135m every year to reverse what he described as ‘years of neglect’.

The government responded in March this year to pledge an extra £135m into criminal legal aid – but only after a 12-week consultation had concluded (the consultation closes today).

But the detail left many practitioners underwhelmed. The government plans to reserve £20m for ‘longer-term investment’ such as reforming the litigators graduated fee scheme, while the impact assessment stated that not everyone would receive the promised 15% uplift in criminal legal aid funding, as recommended by Bellamy.

The Law Society withdrew its support for the government’s proposals after calculating that the overall package for solicitors would amount to 9%. The government has stressed how challenging it was to secure funding increases and said the uplift is a percentage rather than cash increase.

Bellamy’s appointment could put him in the position of defending government policy which appears to be at odds with the findings of his own report.