Monday 05 August 2013 by Catherine Baksi

The London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association (LCCSA) is to ballot members on its response to proposed alternatives to the government's planned shake-up of criminal legal aid.

The vote comes as the Ministry of Justice continues to meet with lawyers' groups as it finalises the details of its promised second 'Transforming legal aid' consultation, due in September.

LCCSA members will be asked to vote on the following:

1. Should the LCCSA oppose any proposal that seeks to move the market towards consolidation?

2. Should the LCCSA seek to slow the pace of consolidation allowing firms to plan and merge at a reasonable pace?

3. Should the LCCSA oppose the severing of the link between solicitors and duty slots?

4. Do you think London should be treated differently because of the unique features of the market in London?

The postal ballot, to be held over the summer, follows an 'urgent' meeting at Friends' House, London, last week at which members debated concerns that flowed from the alternative proposals suggested by the Law Society to the planned introduction of price-competitive tendering.

Instead of the immediate reduction in the number of criminal legal aid providers under the government's plans, the Law Society's alternative favours a slower consolidation of the marker over the life of new contracts through tightening contractual conditions.

It also suggests severing the link between an individual solicitor and the amount of duty work given to firms, instead allocating the volume of cases based on the amount of work done in the previous year.

LCCSA president Akhtar Ahmad said the association, which represents London firms of all sizes, has been 'working hard' to campaign against the government's reforms, but is keen to hear the views of its members.

He said discussions 'that could prove pivotal' continue between the Law Society and the ministry, as well as frequent practitioner meetings involving groups including the Bar Council, Criminal Bar Association, Criminal Law Solicitors Association and the Legal Aid Practitioners Group.

Consensus, he added, has been 'difficult to reach' on all matters due the contentious nature of the proposals and the diverse nature of the membership.

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