Bar Council Chairman: We will not facilitate a scheme which will wreck the criminal justice system

5 June 2013

The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, has today stated that it has no plans to develop a quality system to facilitate price competitive tendering (PCT) for criminal legal aid. The Bar Council believes that real quality is based on choice of service providers, not price alone, on which the Government's model is based. The Bar Council's response to the Ministry of Justice's consultation clearly sets out its position on this issue. 

The Bar Council welcomes the Lord Chancellor's expressed wish to improve the earnings of young barristers but regrets that the proposed reforms will have the opposite effect. Once again, the Ministry has relied on historic and misleading figures relating to a very small number of the highest legal aid earners in order to justify sweeping legal aid changes which will:

  • Stop people being able to choose a lawyer, and thereby remove all competition based upon quality from the market

  • Leave vulnerable people without any legal representation

  • Put over a thousand solicitors' firms out of business

  • See the harshest cuts anywhere in public services, and

  • Undermine diversity across the legal profession.

Chairman of the Bar, Maura McGowan QC, said:

"The Lord Chancellor has asked the Bar Council to come up with a scheme which will ensure quality within the remit of the Government's proposed price competitive tendering scheme for criminal legal aid. This is because the scheme as it stands has nothing to do with quality, only price. It is wrong to suggest otherwise. Preserving competition between service providers is simply not compatible with price competitive tendering. Real quality requires clients to be able to choose their lawyer, not to be allocated one by the same Government which is charging them with a criminal offence.  

"The Bar has no plans to develop a scheme which will wreck the criminal justice system and drive over a thousand solicitors' firms out of business.

"Once again, the Ministry of Justice is relying on out-of-date figures to support an argument which it is losing. Legal aid lawyers, who are highly skilled and trained advocates who work hard in the public interest, often earn no more than teachers or other public service providers. The public will not be fooled into thinking that changes which threaten their basic freedoms and the Rule of Law can be justified on that basis. Attempts to argue otherwise by perpetuating false stereotypes are frankly dangerous and wrong.

"We are, and always have been, open to engaging in a thorough review of the legal aid system and to working with the Government to reform the scheme to ensure it works in the public interest. Instead, we are being asked to make piecemeal additions to an unworkable model. We will not lend our support to a scheme that will wreck the criminal justice system."

ENDS

Notes to editors:

1. For further information, please contact the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 or Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.

2. The Bar Council's full consultation response can be found here.

3. The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes:

 

  • The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services

  • Fair access to justice for all

  • The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and

  • The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.

 

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board.