Justice and value for money should be both the principal and the outcome of legal aid expenditure.
The "Legal Aid System" both crime and civil is being hollowed out by savage cuts in both scope (by restricting what type of case qualifies and means testing) and money spent. Projected gross spend will be down from £2.4 billion a decade ago to a projected new low of 1.5 billion, a massive 33% fall without taking into account inflation.
In the second consultation PCT is abandoned and the importance of client choice recognised, but what is still proposed is the arbitrary "17.5% cut" which produces the equally arbitrary "saving" of £220 million for the MoJ. The £220 million has no relationship to access to justice, sustainable services or evidenced based budget setting; it is simply a figure derived from the internal politics of government.
It is an irony that the network of small businesses that comprise solicitor firms and the associated chambers of the independent bar arose from a free market. It is a structure which meets need through diversity. Value for money is guaranteed by professional training and regulation, ethics and competition through reputation.
What is not possible is the endless reduction of hourly rates and prices per case. There comes a point, which we have reached, when it is not possible to provide the quality of work each case needs within fee structures that are ludicrously low. If a business is to survive through minimum work, justice is the casualty and as importantly, the money spent becomes very poor value for the taxpayer.
The system is cheap and the consequence of the next wave of cuts and reforms (Severely restricting capacity of ordinary people to Judicially Review decisions of the state and the residency rule) will be to fragment delivery, reduce access and diversity and deliver neither value for money or justice.
The time has come to do all that we can to stop this assault on justice.
1. Attend the Campaign Sub Committee meetings.
3. Respond to the consultation
Akhtar Ahmad - LCCSA President