Oct 2014

Changes to legal aid

An update on the legal aid debate from the

Chris Grayling was accused of “savaging” the legal system as he finally confirmed swingeing legal aid cuts. The justice secretary today outlined his response to his controversial Transforming Legal Aid consultation which proposed to cut the criminal legal aid fund by £220m by imposing a 17.5% cut and forcing a consolidation of the market.

“As everybody knows this Government is dealing with an unprecedented financial challenge and I have no choice but to look for the savings I have to make across the full range of the Ministry of Justice’s work. I cannot exempt legal aid from this but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand how challenging these reductions will be.”
Chris Grayling

The justice secretary has come under sustained attack for his proposals from defence lawyers and campaigners . “I have genuine respect for the quality services provided by the independent criminal Bar and solicitors,” Chris Grayling said.

Such feelings are not reciprocated.

The proposals amounted to “a disaster for the public who will find it increasingly difficult to gain access to a local solicitor willing to provide legal aid in the face of a State funded investigation and prosecution”, claimed the Criminal Law Solicitors Association.

Grayling had ditched his original plan to introduce a hugely divisive system of price competitive tendering which would have seen the total number of 1600 firms shrunk to just 400 firms. The deal was brokered as part of a series of concessions achieved through negotiations with the solicitors body the Law Society.

Critically, Grayling jettisoned plans to scrap client choice.

However that deal was regarded as act of betrayal by many of the Society’s own members. It sparked an unprecedented constitutional crisis at its Chancery Lane HQ. James Parry, a Liverpool solicitor-advocate, called for a special general meeting. He argued that “the majority, if not all, of those who practice criminal law” were “united in their opposition” to the proposed reforms. “The Law Society’s stance however has been different and appears to be one of active appeasement and abject surrender,” he said.

Nicholas Lavendar, chair of the Bar Council argued that advocates in the Crown Court had borne “a disproportionate share of the reductions in spending”. ”

“Today, our worst fears have been confirmed. Across England and Wales, Criminal barristers, who work hard in the public interest, will be dismayed and demoralised. Regrettably, many skilled and experienced advocates are likely to have to leave criminal practice altogether. The quality of justice will suffer as a result, and the harm done may well be irreparable.”
Nicholas Lavendar