Legal Aid

Legal aid reform will reward efficiency

PUBLISHED March 21, 2007

Matt Foot's article on the government's proposals for criminal legal aid reform (An attack of convenience, March 19) is misleading and wrong. The important principles set out in the Legal Aid and Advice Act of 1949 are safe. Under our proposals anyone who is arrested will be entitled to legal advice at the police station, and anyone unable to pay for their own defence will receive advice and representation at court.

Only firms who provide good-quality services will be entitled to undertake legal aid work. Consequently, some substandard practitioners will no longer be allowed to charge taxpayers for their work. The proposals also mean an end to taxpayers' money being spent on hourly rates. Fixed fees encourage efficiency, whereas hourly rates can lead to inflated costs and unnecessarily slow justice.

We are not proposing to end choice of representation. However, we will no longer pay for the travelling time of a Manchester solicitor representing a client in London when there is good-quality supply locally. Nor is it right simply to say that solicitors "will be appointed from a list". Where attendance is required, lawyers on the local police station rota or using their 20% out-of-area allowance can take any case, and defendants will have a choice. CDS Direct will ensure that representatives are not sent when not needed. But we are not restricting choice when an attendance is required.

Vera Baird QC MP
Legal aid minister