Legal profession joins forces to oppose unreasonable legal aid proposals

14 May 2013

Representatives of the Law Society and the Bar Council have joined forces with wider practitioner bodies to oppose the  Ministry of Justice Consultation on proposed savage cuts to the funding of the Criminal Legal Aid Budget, the introduction of Price Competitive Tendering and other changes to the criminal justice system.

Following a meeting on 29 April with representatives of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG), Criminal Law Solicitors' Association (CLSA), Criminal Bar Association (CBA), Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates (SAHCA), the Big Firms Group, London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCSSA), Society of Asian Lawyers (SAL), the Bar Council and Law Society said the solicitors' profession and the Bar were united in their decision to work together to oppose the proposal.

The immediate concerns on which all were agreed are:

  • The proposal to abolish freedom of choice of representation is an unacceptable inroad into the basic rights of those facing criminal charges;

  • The imposition of Price Competitive Tendering with the price cap will make it uneconomic for firms to provide quality services, leading to a wholesale exodus from the market;

  • The fixed contract sizes will make it impossible for smaller firms to remain in the market and provide no incentive for firms to compete on quality; and

  • The flattening of fee rate so that a solicitor is paid as much for a guilty plea as for a potentially complex case where a client is not guilty will introduce perverse incentives and a danger of miscarriages of justice.

Commenting after the meeting Law Society Chief Executive Desmond Hudson said:

"There was an unprecedented level of agreement between all who attended on our opposition to these four key aspects of the Government proposals and our concern that they will sabotage the criminal justice system of which this country is rightly proud. We will be working together over the coming weeks and months to co-ordinate our campaigning work and efforts to protect the already hard pressed system.

"There is a very high level of concern across all legal practitioners at these proposals. Amongst many examples, the attack on a defendant's right to freedom of choice of his or her lawyer is grave. The state will prosecute you and then decide who can represent you."

Maura McGowan QC, Chairman of the Bar, commented:

"The Bar fears that these proposals, if implemented, will reduce even further the right of the less well-off to quality legal representation, whether in civil or criminal matters. That right is a basic tenet of a democratic society and should not be further eroded."

ENDS

Notes to editors:

1. 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.

2. 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  .

3. The Law Society of England and Wales is the independent professional body, established for solicitors in 1825, that works globally to support and represent its members, promoting the highest professional standards and the rule of law.

4. For further information, please contact the Law Society Press Office on 0207 320 5764 or the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 or  Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.