Tuesday 08 May 2012 by Catherine Baksi

Criminal firms should make it clear to legal aid clients how their publicly funded status affects the service they get, according to a leading solicitor advocate.

Ian Kelcey, senior partner at Bristol firm Kelcey & Hall and Law Society council member said: 'It's a myth that clients get the same level of service on legal aid rates as when they pay privately - that disappeared about 10 years ago.'

Speaking at the Law Society's criminal law conference, Kelcey said there is a limit to what firms can be expected to do on legal aid rates: 'We can't supply a platinum level of service with base metal rates of pay.' He suggested that firms be open with clients about how much the government pays and explain the constraints this puts on them.

Addressing delegates on outcomes-focused regulation, Kelcey said that legal aid rates prevent criminal legal aid firms from managing risk in the same way as large City firms.

He warned that poor advocacy standards, conflict of interest issues, failure to comply with the criminal procedure rules and complaints handling will put criminal law firms under scrutiny from the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

In particular he warned firms to consider the ability of the advocates they sent to court to cover cases, even before the quality assurance scheme for advocates (QASA) is introduced.

He said the Law Society had heard reports of solicitors lacking the requisite skill level presenting cases in court. 'It's hard for young advocates to resist the senior partner who says they should go and be the junior on a murder,' he said.

But he warned: 'If the SRA start to get complaints from judges, they'll look at them (solicitor advocates) pre-QASA to send a warning sign.'

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