Barristers and solicitors gathered outside the Houses of Parliament yesterday in protest against proposed changes to legal aid.

Certain areas of law have already been moved out of the scope of the system in a bid to save £350m on the Government?s £2.2bn legal aid bill.

Additional proposed changes are now under consideration, including paving the way for lawyers to compete for contracts.

The London Criminal Courts Solicitors? Association (LCCSA) organised yesterday?s demonstration, in Old Palace Yard, near the Houses of Parliament.

Speakers included John Cooper QC and founder of legal charity Reprieve Clive Stafford-Smith.

Plans under consideration would see the country divided into 42 justice areas, where only a certain number of law firms would be given the right to provide legal aid services.

This would mean that defendants would no longer have access to the solicitor of their choice, unless they had specific needs, something that the LCCSA said was a key concern.

Firms would also have to enter a tendering process, with rates dropping by 17.5 per cent, and the number of companies allowed to work for legal aid would be slashed.

The LCCSA said smaller law firms that would be forced to cover wider areas while funding is cut could face bankruptcy.

The protest was followed by a rally at Friends Meeting House in Euston and an open meeting to discuss the changes.

It comes in the wake of action across the country by lawyers who object to the plans.

The Ministry of Justice has defended the system, saying that the country had "one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world? and that £1bn per year was spent on criminal legal aid alone.

Dave Rowntree, who is drummer in the band Blur and now a qualified solicitor with Kingsley Napley, said: "Legal aid costs have been cut every year since 1997 ? the real savings are now to be found elsewhere in the justice system.

"Unfortunately, the Government is trying to get criminal defence on the cheap, yet it?s a false economy.?

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