Legal Aid

Legal aid protest reaches Westminster

PUBLISHED March 22, 2007

Hundreds of criminal defence solicitors demonstrated outside Parliament this week, calling on the government to scrap its proposed legal aid reforms.

The rally was held in protest over measures to replace hourly pay rates with a system of fixed fees and the introduction of best-value tendering, which solicitors claim will drive firms out of business and further reduce low pay rates.

Members of Parliament from all three main parties ? including Labour MPs Diane Abbott, Frank Dobson and Keith Vaz, shadow Attorney-General Dominic Grieve and his Liberal Democrat counterpart, Simon Hughes ? joined prominent lawyers such as Sir Geoffrey Bindman and Louise Christian to denounce the proposals.

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said the reforms were an attack on justice for the most vulnerable. ?It?s time to stop apologising for being lawyers. It?s time to get out of the courtroom and onto the streets,? she said.

A Department for Constitutional Affairs spokeswoman said the action was ?unprofessional and irresponsible?.

The protest came as many solicitors around the country continue to work to rule, or partially withdraw their services in magistrates? courts or at police stations.

At the rally, Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson also revealed that it had instructed counsel to advise on a possible challenge to the terms of the new unified legal aid contract for civil practitioners. He urged solicitors to wait until the outcome before deciding whether to sign.

The Gazette has meanwhile learned that family solicitor David Burrows has already issued judicial review proceedings against the Legal Services Commission and the Lord Chancellor in respect of their ability to impose the contract.