Legal Aid

Legal aid fix rejected

PUBLISHED February 2, 2007

The Law Society Council vowed last week to deploy ?all necessary resources? to defeat the government?s legal aid reforms.

Denouncing the plans as ?unworkable?, the council unanimously passed a motion welcoming the expression of unity demonstrated at the special general meeting (SGM) the week before and the outcome of that meeting.

Some 400 solicitors passed a resolution at the SGM calling on the council to reject price competitive tendering while the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) remains the sole supplier of publicly funded criminal defence work (see [2007] Gazette, 25 January, 1).

It also demanded that criminal defence firms be awarded contracts of at least five years in length and be remunerated by a specified formula. The resolution also stressed that clients? choice of which firm to instruct should be pre-eminent.

Roger Peach, the Southampton-based practitioner behind the SGM resolution, said solicitors would welcome the council?s tough stance.

?Defence solicitors know, however, that the government will not see sense until matters have taken a more serious turn in the courts,? he said, adding that solicitors are considering days of protest on 15 and 16 February. ?We hope that the government will realise that, without us, any criminal defence system is unworkable.?

In a joint statement, the DCA and Legal Services Commission said they were ?disappointed? at the council?s motion, and insisted that reforming the legal aid system is ?the right thing to do?.

?It?s about getting the best service possible for clients and the best price for the taxpayer,? the statement said. ?It also provides real opportunities for suppliers who are efficient and deliver quality for clients.?