Categorized | Criminal Justice, Legal Aid

Gove doesn’t care either: Next steps for the criminal legal aid market

Gove doesn’t care either: Next steps for the criminal legal aid market

Yesterday Shailesh Vara, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Courts and Legal Aid, presented a written statement to the House of Commons to confirm next steps for the criminal legal aid market.

He said: “There is a pressing need to ensure our criminal justice system performs more efficiently” and “there is no doubt we still have a generous system compared to other countries. The continuing need to reduce the deficit means that we must make further progress. We must secure greater efficiencies whilst maintaining a high quality service and guaranteeing that everyone accused of a crime has the same access to a legal aid lawyer as they do now.”

He went on: “Having considered the findings of Sir Brian Leveson’s report into the efficiency of the criminal courts, the impact of broader criminal justice reforms, and the impact of changes already introduced, we have decided to press ahead with the second 8.75% reduction to litigators’ fees announced by the Coalition government. The statutory instrument implementing this reduction will be laid today, and the change will come into force on 1 July.”

On duty provider contracts he said: “We will also proceed with the new duty provider contracts, the tender for which is already well underway. The Legal Aid Agency is currently assessing bids and is on track to announce decisions in the Autumn….Organisations that are awarded duty provider contracts will have exclusive access to duty contract work and will benefit from economies of scale. Together, these changes will ensure there is a sustainable duty solicitor service across England and Wales.”

The Legal Aid Agency announced that it had received sufficient bids to undertake a viable competition. It received 1,099 bids for duty contracts from over 500 organisations.

The only piece of good news came when Vara said: “Having listened carefully to the case put by the profession, we have decided not to reduce advocacy fees at this stage. Instead we want to work closely with the profession in order to explore alternative ways of securing savings through greater efficiencies in criminal proceedings.”

An independent review will commence in July 2016 to assess the impact of the fee cuts and dual contracting model.

The statement was greeted with dismay by most of the legal profession. Law Society president Andrew Caplen said: “We are deeply concerned not only for the immediate future of the justice system, but for its continued survival in years to come. The government’s cuts could undermine the criminal justice system to the point that it may no longer deliver fair outcomes.”

CLSA chairman Bill Waddington said the two-tier contract system would see at least two-thirds of firms out of business within a short space of time, with a reduction from 1,600 to 527 in the number of contracts for solicitors providing 24-hour cover at police stations. “The further cut of 8.75% will place even the most slick operation in financial difficulty.”

LCCSA president Jonathan Black said: “We understand that the advocates fee cut has not been affected and that he [Vara] was persuaded that savings could be made elsewhere. This was to maintain the quality of advocacy services. It is disappointing that he would not consider the same argument in respect of litigation services, the provision of which will be further impacted as a result of this cut.”

Bar chairman Alistair McDonald QC said: “The Bar Council continues to have grave concerns about the effects upon solicitor colleagues of further fee cuts and the implementation of the dual contracting scheme. We remain convinced that these measures are likely seriously to damage access to justice and the provision of high-quality advocacy in England and Wales.”

Photo courtesy of Commons Wikimedia

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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