The Ministry of Justice’s impact assessments (IAs) accompanying its Jackson implementation plan have been branded “not fit for purpose” by the government-appointed committee that vets them, it has been claimed.
The Access to Justice Action Group (AJAG) said it has had a “high-level leak” that the IAs were given a so-called “red card” just before the policy was announced in Parliament in late March.
The regulatory policy committee (RPC) is an independent body which scrutinises the quality of the analysis in IAs accompanying all new regulation proposed by the government.
It has to certify that a proposal is fit for purpose before it can be considered by the Cabinet’s reducing regulation sub-committee, chaired by business secretary Vince Cable.
AJAG co-ordinator Andrew Dismore said: “Any objective commentator, on reading the impact assessment, could only have come to the same conclusion, as it has practically no figures in it at all, and the few that are there are easily challenged. The impact assessment is full of internal inconsistencies, too.”
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) refused to confirm or deny the story. In a statement, it said: “The government set out its position on the reform of civil litigation funding and costs on 29 March. This followed careful consideration of the responses received during a full public consultation.”
A red card would not mean the end of the Jackson reforms, however. It would be open for the MoJ to rework and resubmit the assessments, although this could delay implementation of Jackson. The RPC does not judge the underlying policy.
Mr Dismore also branded as “disgraceful” the MoJ’s refusal of AJAG’s Freedom of Information Act requests to release the RPC’s response, correspondence about it and the data on which the IAs were based.
He said: “The MoJ has replied, to say that the policy is still under development, and thus exempt and that the data was confidential. That is a rather bizarre position, as the justice secretary was very forthright in his statement to the Commons, that implementing Jackson was settled policy.”
The MoJ told Legal Futures: “We respond to all requests for information in line with the Freedom of Information Act. Some information is exempted from disclosure by the terms of the Act.”
Meanwhile, the Law Society recently attended a meeting with “other representative bodies who are equally concerned with the dangerous effect that the Jackson proposals will have on access to justice”, the society’s chief executive, Des Hudson, has revealed.
His report to today’s council meeting – being held in Cardiff – says: “It was agreed that the group would write a joint letter to consumer groups in order to engage support for the forthcoming lobbying campaign.”
The Jackson reforms are set to form part of the MoJ’s forthcoming Justice Bill, which will also encompass criminal justice and legal aid reform. Publication had been expected this week, but the MoJ is still not confirming when it will happen.