Carter?s precarious balancing act with future of legal aid

PUBLISHED February 10, 2006

In response to Lord Carter?s initial report, Kevin Martin, Law Society President, said:

?The Law Society readily acknowledges the need for reform of the legal aid system and we recognise that a market approach can play a role in any new structure. However, we are pleased that the Carter Review team has accepted that such a model would not be appropriate in all circumstances nor in some geographical areas. Before agreeing the details of any scheme, the Law Society would need to be certain that the full financial implications for the viability and sustainability of the supplier base are satisfactory.?

?Legal aid has reached a point of crisis. The increasing cost of the biggest criminal cases has had the effect of limiting the civil legal aid budget to the point where millions of people have been left without a means to solve their problems. The Government has acknowledged that this has created legal aid ?deserts? ? parts of the country where legally-aided advice is sparse or non-existent. Savings achieved in any new system must be re-distributed to ensure that access to justice is restored in these areas.?

?Lord Carter?s remit does not extend to the courts, the police and the prosecution but he has identified areas of significant waste outside the control of solicitors. The justice system is blighted by for example, delays in the arrival of prisoners to court, prosecution evidence being disclosed at a late stage and the inefficient listing of cases in courts. These problems too must be tackled if any reforms in the way legal aid services are procured can be successful.?

Janet Paraskeva, Law Society Chief Executive, added:

?Across the country, there is a dedicated body of legal aid solicitors running practices which, on current rates of remuneration, are barely profitable. Any risk to the viability of the overall supplier base could further exacerbate the problem of advice deserts because most firms undertake a balance of both criminal and civil work. Any reforms must also preserve the diversity of the supplier base to ensure that minority communities, often served by small firms and those operated by black and minority ethnic solicitors, continue to receive the service that meets their needs.?