Secretary of State for Justice Ken Clarke has blamed Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ) itself for its collapse, saying that all other organisations had managed to adjust to changes in the government’s legal aid payment system.
Speaking in a debate on the issue yesterday, Clarke (pictured) said: “The fixed fee system introduced three years ago by the last government is already being successfully used by the vast majority of not-for-profit organisations in this area of law.
“As other organisations have successfully made the transition, it is only reasonable to expect Refugee and Migrant Justice to do the same.”
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes added his voice to those questioning the change in the payment system, which means that organisations cannot claim the legal aid fees they have incurred until the case has been through every stage of appeal.
He argued that RMJ had reduced its costs by 40 per cent but still could not cope.
But Clarke reiterated: “As far as I am aware, this is the only organisation that proved in the end unable to manage its affairs and its finances to avoid the demise that has occurred.”
System is “value for money”
Clarke also emphasised that RMJ had received “substantial support” from the Legal Services Commission, more so than other organisations, to adjust to the change, said that he would not go back on the system as “it does provide value for money” and rejected calls to take money from the legal aid budget to rescue the organisation.
He mentioned the outcry following RMJ’s descent into administration, saying: “That body is briefing everybody through very extensive public relations activity: archbishops are writing to me, and everybody seems to be informed that the body has gone broke, but someone is still producing a great deal of campaigning material on its behalf.”
The Law Society, which has been outspoken in its criticism of the payment system, denied that inefficiencies at RMJ were to blame.
Chief executive Desmond Hudson said: “We have seen no evidence that the inefficiencies the government have hinted at were a significant issue.”
He added: "It is inaccurate to say, as the government has said, that all other organisations have coped. Two law centres - Gateshead and Cambridge - have closed in the past couple of years, partly because of this cash flow problem.
“Firms are also suffering, and have coped generally by increasing borrowing or reducing drawings.”
Image courtesty of P. Vladi