Categorized | Legal Aid

Legal Aid reform

Legal Aid reform

Introducing proposals for legal aid reform last week, Legal Aid Minister, Willy Bach, said that the UK has one of the best funded legal aid systems in the world. He went on to say that “legal aid practitioners provide a fantastic service and should be paid accordingly; and that means rebalancing some fee structures so that there is greater fairness across the board. Today’s consultation paper sets out proposals to make better use of the legal aid budget and ensure access for as many people as possible”.

The proposals set out to rebalance the legal aid budget seek to ensure that the £2 billion currently spent every year goes as far as possible in favour of civil help for those who need it most. “Legal advice, in the fields of housing, debt, and welfare benefits, can solve people’s legal problems, with the result that their lives and lives of their families are improved. It can literally change people’s lives”, said Lord Bach. During the current economic downturn “more people who are homeowners, consumers, employees and those facing financial hardship, are vulnerable in ways that require them to use the civil law system”.

One proposal is to rationalise the rate of pay for barristers in Crown Court cases. On average, barristers acting for the prosecution receive 23% less pay than if they were acting for the defence. Ending the current duplication of fees, which remunerates litigators for preparation for committal hearing but which also remunerates the same litigators for consideration of the Committals Bundle in preparation for trial in the Crown Court, is also proposed, with one fixed fee to be paid out of the Litigator Graduate Fee Scheme. The anomaly by which practitioners in criminal cases receive a fee for file reviews which does not apply in civil cases is to be removed, with the ending of payments for criminal file reviews.

A particularly controversial proposal is the reduction in police station fees in the most expensive and oversubscribed areas. The Law Society is clear that many solicitors will not be able to provide a service if rates are reduced further. This will be particularly the case in London, where, it claims, solicitors work on the very edges of profitability. Many of the worst affected solicitors will be from the BME community, who provide important advice to members of that community, who are statistically more likely to be arrested. Des Hudson, Law Society Chief Executive, said: “Solicitors don’t create the demand for advice in police stations; they simply respond to requests from people who’ve been arrested… Arbitrarily cutting the fees that they are paid will reduce access to this vital service for the people who need it most”.

In addition, the Legal Services Commission have been asked to consider changes to payments made to experts in both criminal and civil cases. Currently, the legal aid budget pays different amounts for the same work by different experts and across categories of law. The change would see payments standardised “to ensure better value for money”.
If you wish to have your say, you have until 12 November 2009, when the consultation will close. Following consultation, MoJ intend to publish their response by December 2009. The full text of the consultation paper ‘Legal aid: funding reforms’ can be found at:-

http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/docs/legal-aid-funding-reforms.pdf

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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