The legal profession is preparing for a confrontation over legal aid with a warning from the head of the Law Society that the £2.1 billion scheme is near collapse.

Kevin Martin, 58, who took over this month as president of the 100,000-strong solicitors' body in England and Wales, said that the rates of pay for lawyers doing legal-aid work were an insult. "The system is descending into almost terminal decline. Something needs to be done pretty soon and pretty drastically," he told The Times. "Without the prospect of more money, the system is in danger of collapse."

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