A body representing the interests of equity partners at specialist criminal law firms has been launched and is demanding a seat at the table with others discussing the future of criminal legal aid.

The Independent Defence Lawyers Group was set up recently by partners at five London firms, and has already signed up members from more than 50 London practices. It has been formed with a mission statement outlining fears ?that there is now a fundamental threat to the integrity of the criminal justice system?.

With the views of individual solicitors catered for through the Criminal Law Solicitors Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA), the new group aims to give a voice to owners in negotiations over criminal legal aid at a time when the Carter review envisages a number of mergers and consortia of firms.

?As such, we are perhaps the best-placed group to comment constructively on which of the eventual proposals may be acceptable and even welcome, what may be unworkable and what can be improved,? said Paul Harris of Edward Fail Bradshaw & Waterson, one of the founder members.

?We also believe there are common commercial interests that bind us all together that should be explored: for example, bulk purchasing of support services such as indemnity insurance, or co-operative ownership of police station agencies.?

Mr Harris emphasised that they continue to support the other groups ? all the founders are members of the LCCSA?s committee ? but said owners have distinct interests. They are not against change, he added, but the current proposals for reform ?directly threaten client choice and the quality of representation?.

The other founders are: Greg Powell (Powell Spencer & Partners), Avtar Bhatoa (Bullivant & Partners), Raymond Shaw (Shaw Graham Kersh), and Richard Hallam (Claude Hornby & Cox).

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