1. Solicitors are mainly a local network of small and medium sized enterprises. There is real demonstrable danger to local Justice and to the survival of the criminal bar, with the enforced removal of a large number of Solicitors firms undertaking Duty Solicitor work and those which temporarily survive if the proposed cuts, initially of 8.75% but ultimately totalling 17.5%, are implemented. Unquestionably the overwhelming majority of all firms whatever their size together with most Counsel believe these proposed cuts are unsustainable even over the short and certainly medium term.
2. Client Choice is an empty choice if our members cannot survive unsustainable cuts and are not there in the community to be instructed.
3. The consultation ignores the 25% reduction in expenditure due to recent cuts and the collapse in the number of cases now being brought to court. It picks £220m as the desired reduction without any logical basis for that figure. We feel it is bizarre to choose a random figure without a budgetary context. The calculated misstatement by the MOJ that UK criminal legal aid is one of the most generous in the world ignores the actual evidence that the expenditure in the UK was average and is now falling. (National Audit Office Briefing for the House Of Commons Justice Committee February 2012 Ministry of Justice ?Comparing International Criminal Justice Systems? Part 3 paragraph 3.3)
4. The consultation repeatedly refers to investigations, further consultations and reports (Otterburn) that are needed and yet purports to commence cutting straight away notwithstanding this information vacuum. It would be prudent to wait for these MOJ research projects and investigations to be completed as rapidly as possible before implementing cuts.
5. The consultation fails to take into account the many detailed cost cutting savings and alternate revenue streams suggested by all the practitioner groups including the Law Society, the Bar Council, CLSA, LCCSA, LAPG, CBA and others. It is prudent for these suggestions to be properly investigated with our full cooperation before dramatically diminishing access to local justice (with consequential pressure on MP?s surgeries, CAB?s and social services).
6. The threatened solicitors firms and Barrister?s Chambers, who provide local access to Justice, once gone will never return thus leaving the way open for the corporate juggernauts such as G4S and Stobart Lorries. Do we have to say any more apart from they hardly have the proven track record of current providers.
7. A perceived incentive to plead guilty provided by a single fee whether innocent or guilty will reduce confidence in our Justice system and be counterproductive. Defendants will fail to take sensible advice and may plead not guilty contrary to advice given which they may suspect to be tainted by financial considerations.
8. The 30% reduction in fees for large cases ignores the fact that these cases require additional work. The Prosecuting authorities spend a great deal of money and time in preparing and presenting these case for the court but this work may be undone by discouraging defence teams from maintaining the necessary skills to assist.
9. The £37500 income limit for legal aid in the Crown Court, above which noone will qualify for legally aided representation, discriminates against middle income earners who find themselves suddenly accused of crime and yet have insufficient capital savings to suddenly be forced to fund private legal representation. These people should still be entitled to legal aid but required to repay on conviction by instalments as rapidly as possible. (Immediately if funds are by then available)
10. We hope the forthcoming debate on criminal legal aid will be well supported. We hope MP?s will attend this debate and in the meantime make their views known to The Lord Chancellor and the MOJ.