Categorized | Criminal Justice, Legal Aid

Solicitors will close

Solicitors will close

Last month Hampshire solicitor Andrew Caplen took office as the 170th president of the Law Society. The new president said access to justice and the preservation of legal aid are his priorities for the year ahead.

He said: “Under my leadership, the Law Society will re-focus on access to justice and will continue to fight the erosion of legal aid. I have spent the last 20 years fighting against the cuts, so I know what this is all about, I have lived it. Access to justice ensures the basic functioning of our democratic society, and is what enticed many of us to become lawyers.”

In a letter sent to criminal law practitioners across England and Wales Caplen calls for reductions in the number of duty legal aid contracts for solicitors to cover police stations and magistrates courts to be put on hold. “Hundreds of solicitors’ firms will close if the Ministry of Justice does not postpone fee cuts and delay changes to criminal legal aid contracts” he warned. “Some firms just do crime. Those firms that do not obtain a contract will have to close. It’s very sad for those who have put a lot of effort into them.”

At present, there are about 1,600 duty contracts but the number is due to fall to 525 under the new scheme overseen by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). “People care passionately about the law,” he said. “If our members want to put in bids for these contracts then more time is going to be needed to make it work. The LAA is not yet in a position to open up the tender process.”

He said that the LAA has yet to fully address concerns as to the categorisation of procurement areas as urban or rural. An area’s classification has consequences for the number of partners permitted to submit a delivery partnership bid, and the amount of work the lead bidder must undertake, and is therefore of utmost importance.

Caplen’s letter informs criminal solicitors that the latest accounts from the LAA show a 3% fall in the number of legal aid cases in 2013-14 compared with 2012-13 and that total spending on criminal legal aid was £908.6m as against an expected spend of £941m at the time of the 2013-14 business plan.

The next planned round of 8.75% fee cuts for criminal legal aid is due after the 2015 general election. Caplen urged the MoJ to “take stock and wait”. “The amount being spent is declining due to the falling crime rates and more people being cautioned,” he said. “If less money is being spent on criminal legal aid, what’s the point of going ahead with a reform like this?”

If crime rates continue to fall, with a consequent reduction in the number of legally aided criminal cases, and evidence emerges that cuts are generating sizeable knock-on costs to other parts of the system, Caplen insists that the cuts be reassessed.

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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