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Law Society claims criminal legal aid reforms ‘economically unworkable, possibly unlawful’

03 May 2013

In a policy document issued yesterday, the Law Society (who are the representative body for solicitors in England and Wales) has stated that the Governments proposals for criminal legal aid are economically unworkable and possibly unlawful.

The Society has stated that whilst it has no illusions about the pressures on the Ministry of Justice to save money, the scale of the cuts the ministry intends to extract, while expecting the lawyers to do even more work than at present, has come as a major shock. They have stated that they find it hard to reconcile this pro-business government making a proposal so at variance with what businesses realistically need to operate.

The plans, which would see firms having to provide services across an entire county, will have the effect of preventing smaller firms from undertaking the work required, with larger firms faring little better. Firms will not be able to grow through running a successful business, as in a proper market. Instead, they will be constrained by the allocation they get from government, and can do no more business and no less. Many larger firms are already reaching or exceeding the limits set for their area, and would therefore be required to absorb the 17.5 per cent cut without getting the benefit of any increase in volume which is supposed to enable them to survive. In some cases they would have to downsize. Consequently, the inability to expand and increase volumes means this looks like a non-starter for larger firms.

In addition, the government’s proposal will remove a client’s choice of solicitor – forcing those charged with a criminal offence to accept the firm allocated to them – a clear denial of justice.

In the view of the Society, this proposal takes the government past the point of no return.

The Law Society’s policy paper can be found on their web site at www.lawsociety.org.uk/Representation/Articles/Government-legal-aid-proposals-economically-unworkable-and-possibly-unlawful/.

If you wish to discuss the issues raised in this article further, please contact us today, and one of our experienced team members will be happy to speak with you.

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