Criminal legal aid scheme of the future must be based on quality and public interest, not just price

5 March 2013

The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, has today responded to the Ministry of Justice's announcement that its consultation and implementation of a new scheme for criminal legal aid will be brought forward, with price competition put forward as one key proposal.

Responding to the Government's announcement that the consultation would be published in April, Maura McGowan QC, Chairman of the Bar, said:

"The Bar has expected this announcement, which was postponed in 2011, for some time. A great deal of work has already been done on the Bar's principled response, which seeks the best way to deliver high quality legal services, in the public interest.

"Just as the Government faces pressure, we must also recognise the enormous pressure which publicly-funded legal practitioners, particularly at the junior end of the profession, are under and how vital it is to the future of the justice system that they are able to pursue a viable career as specialist advocates and in the public interest.

"One of the proposals is a model based on price competition, which is a blunt instrument. It assures none of the safeguards and qualities which we must expect from our justice system. It cannot be one which properly underpins the effective operation of the Rule of Law.

"We will study the consultation document very carefully when it is published. There is no reference to advocacy services in what we have seen today. We will make the case in the strongest terms that the Ministry of Justice needs to recognise the importance of maintaining the Bar, especially the junior Bar. Decisions on allocation of work must be made on quality and not on money alone. We have made these points, in person, to the Lord Chancellor and will make them again in our formal response.

"We recognise that today's announcement does not outline the many other options for reform, but we will engage constructively with the Ministry of Justice to investigate all other avenues, before the consultation is published."

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 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.