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New proposals for criminal legal aid

In what is being described by many as a u-turn, the Government has now published revised proposals for criminal legal aid contracting.

This new consultation ensures that all those solicitors who currently provide criminal legal aid work to their own clients will continue to be able to do so, as long as they meet minimum quality requirements. In addition, the Government is seeking views on an updated tendering model for duty work, such as in police stations, which would be based on quality, and implementation would be timed to give the market more opportunity to prepare.

The Government is still committed, however, to making reforms. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said:

“This Government is on the side of people who work hard and want to get on in life. We have an excellent tradition of legal aid and one of the best legal professions in the world. But we cannot close our eyes to the fact legal aid is costing too much.

The proposals we have agreed make sure legally-aided lawyers will always be available when needed and that people can choose the lawyer they want to help them.

Among the planned changes the Government has announced that it will:

  • Stop criminal legal aid being given to prisoners unnecessarily – such as those seeking an easier ride in another prison. This will prevent around 11,000 cases each year being funded unnecessarily by criminal legal aid;
  • Introduce a threshold on Crown Court legal aid to stop the wealthiest defendants with an annual household disposable income of £37,500 or more being automatically granted legal aid. This would only affect defendants who have around £3,000 or more left in the bank each month after paying their essential bills – such as food, mortgage or rent, utilities, childcare etc.;
  • Introduce a residency test so that only those with a strong connection to the UK are able to receive civil legal aid;
  • Make it harder for claimants to use civil legal aid to bring speculative cases by ensuring all cases must have at least a 50% chance of success to be funded;
  • Reduce the cost of the long-running criminal cases, which place too much of a burden on taxpayers, by 30%.

The new consultation – Transforming Legal Aid: Next Steps – is open until 18 October 2013 and further details can be found at consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-legal-aid-next-steps

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