Legal Aid

Consequences of law reform – letter from Law Society Council Member

PUBLISHED December 6, 2006

Sir, What is most depressing about Lord Falconer of Thoroton and the Legal Services Commission is that they do not appear to understand the consequences of what they propose (report, Nov 28). Solicitors operate firms efficiently ? it is the only way to survive as a legal aid practice. The Legal Services Commission and Lord Falconer have failed to say how solicitors should alter working practices to become more efficient.

Fixed fees in fast-track immigration cases have resulted in complaints about the standard of advice and representation. Not surprising that someone paid a fixed fee should devote a fixed amount of time and a fixed amount of effort to the work.

The effect of the reforms in criminal legal aid will be that innocent people will be convicted as a result of poor advice and guilty people will be acquitted on technical points because of poor advice and representation.

The Government wants to reinvent the legal aid wheel completely instead of targeting the real causes of the rise in legal aid spending ? bureaucracy imposed upon solicitors by the Legal Services Commission; more and more legislation, policies and initiatives; sloth and incompetence in the manner that cases are investigated and considered for charge; poor listing practices in the magistrates? courts and in Crown Courts; incompetent management of the courts, along with too many managers and not enough people processing the work.

The Government and the Legal Services Commission have not asked solicitors what is good and what is bad with legal aid and instead merely asks us to comment upon their plans. It is no coincidence that Lord Carter of Coles?s review of legal aid turned out to be a reworking of the Legal Services Commission?s earlier plans for competitive price tendering with peer review stuck on.

Law Society Council Member