Means testing in the magistrates? courts, together with other criminal justice initiatives, have seen the number of representation orders granted to solicitors slashed by almost a third compared to last year ? and are likely to save ?100 million from the legal aid budget, figures obtained by the Gazette revealed this week.
Solicitors said the drop showed the government could not deliver the increase in volume in work required under Lord Carter?s legal aid reforms.
In the first three months since means testing was introduced last October, just 108,206 representation orders were granted, the Legal Services Commission (LSC) has confirmed. This is a 29% reduction on the 152,178 orders granted in the same period last year.
An LSC spokesman said the drop was partly due to initiatives such as conditional cautioning and shadow charging, and a fall in applications when the means test was introduced.
Criminal Law Solicitors Association director Rodney Warren said: ?If there is a 29% drop in orders, that would suggest a 29% saving in expenditure. That is likely to be well over ?100 million. Will this be reapplied into legal aid? If the government is making all these savings, it will have to make sure it has still got a supplier base. The Carter reforms are based on efficiency savings as a result of volume. Here we have evidence that there is a drop in volume.?
The LSC spokesman said firms could ?make good? lost revenue through private work, and Lord Carter took means testing into account.
Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson said an increase in unrepresented defendants ?raises serious concerns about access to justice?.