Legal Aid

Justice in the balance

PUBLISHED January 26, 2007

By all accounts, the criminal justice system is on the verge of unravelling at the seams. State-funded defence solicitors are planning another round of industrial action, Courts Service civil servants are also gearing up to strike, and magistrates have told ministers that government reforms have severely undermined public confidence in their courts.

Without doubt, criminal law defence solicitors are becoming more militant by the day. At a special general meeting of the Law Society?s representation arm, they voted overwhelmingly for Chancery Lane to reject out of hand the price competitive tendering proposals pitched in the Carter reforms.

While their vote is not binding on the Society?s council, it will test that body?s newly cast role as being exclusively the trade union voice of the solicitors? profession. Until now, the Society has adopted a more conciliatory position in its lobbying of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, expressing serious concerns about competitive tendering but not rejecting it outright. It will be interesting to see whether that approach alters in the light of persistent pressure from practitioners on the ground. If it did, then the Society would win the respect of its members, but it might also damage its relations with Whitehall.

A difficult tactical decision lies ahead in the near future for the policy-makers at Chancery Lane.