Categorized | Criminal Justice, Legal Aid

Client choice climbdown

Client choice climbdown

Chris Grayling has performed a massive U-turn over controversial plans to deprive defendants of the opportunity to choose a solicitor. The justice secretary has abandoned one of the most contentious aspects of proposals to cut £220m a year from the legal aid budget.

Have no doubt about the extent of this climbdown. In his original consultation paper Grayling said: “An approach that removed client choice entirely would…deliver the greatest level of certainty.” This is because “If client choice were retained as now as a part of this model – both at the outset or allowing clients to switch providers at different stages of the process – this would introduce a level of uncertainty over the case volumes a provider would be allocated.”
The MoJ impact study reinforced this approach. “Giving the provider greater certainty by restricting a client’s right to choose their provider at the point of request and to transfer to a new provider will have a positive impact on providers, enabling them to retain business throughout the life of a case.”

In the face of overwhelming opposition from the legal profession, Grayling signalled his change of heart in a letter to Sir Alan Beith, chair of the House of Commons Justice Committee, ahead of his appearance before the committee on Wednesday. He wrote: “I have heard clearly from the Law Society and other respondents that they regard client choice as fundamental to the effective delivery of legal aid. I am therefore looking again at this issue, and expect to make changes to allow a choice of solicitors for clients receiving criminal legal aid.”

His ill-advised remark to the ‘Law Gazette’ – “I don’t believe that most people who find themselves in our criminal justice system are great connoisseurs of legal skills. We know the people in our prisons and who come into our courts often come from the most difficult and challenged backgrounds” – comes back to haunt him.

So this ill favoured, ill thought out and incomprehending scheme, which has no credibility in legal and financial terms, unravels. The volte-face of keeping client choice means PCT and Procurement Areas are effectively dead. Christina Grzasko’s demand that “The government’s proposals for legal aid should be taken out and shot for commercial stupidity” looks like coming to pass.

The Law Society has also written to Sir Alan Beith announcing “our alternative model, which has been drafted with the support of the representative bodies of the criminal solicitors’ profession. The proposal sets out in quite some detail our plan for change in the criminal legal aid system that balances objectives and achieves the change that is necessary for long-term sustainability of supply. We are looking forward to discussing its contents in detail with the Ministry.”

This proposed alternative to price-competitive tendering “begins from the premise that the Ministry of Justice’s approach, as set out in the Transforming Legal Aid consultation paper, is completely unworkable.” It claims three core objectives: retain choice, provide certainty and facilitate efficiency. Of necessity it is itself a compromise. As Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, Law Society President, said: “I won’t pretend that our alternative, if adopted, will result in flags waving in every solicitor firm – it is in many respects the least worse solution.”

To judge for yourself, read the proposed model in full by navigating the links at this ridiculously long email address:

http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/representation/policy-discussion/law-society-alternative-to-price-competitive-tendering/

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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