Legal Aid

Society and bar join hands against criminal justice plans

PUBLISHED May 14, 2013

Tuesday 14 May 2013 by Catherine Baksi

The legal profession has united in its opposition to the government's proposals for fee cuts and reforms which lawyers say will 'sabotage' the criminal justice system.

The Law Society and Bar Council today issued a statement on the four key planks of changes set out in a consultation paper which they jointly oppose. The statement says:

- The proposal to abolish freedom of choice of representation is an unacceptable inroad into the basic rights of those facing criminal charges;

- The imposition of price-competitive tendering with the price cap will make it uneconomic for firms to provide quality services, leading to a wholesale exodus from the market;

- Fixed contract sizes will make it impossible for smaller firms to remain in the market and provide no incentive for firms to compete on quality; and

- The flattening of fee rates so that a solicitor is paid as much for a guilty plea as for a potentially complex case where a client is not guilty will introduce perverse incentives and a danger of miscarriages of justice.

The declaration follows a meeting last month of representatives from the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, Criminal Law Solicitors' Association, Criminal Bar Association, Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates, the Big Firms Group, London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association and the Society of Asian Lawyers, as well as the Bar Council and Law Society.

After the meeting, Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson (pictured) said: 'There was an unprecedented level of agreement between all who attended on our opposition to these four key aspects of the government proposals and our concern that they will sabotage the criminal justice system of which this country is rightly proud.'

He said the groups will be working together over the coming weeks and months to co-ordinate campaigning work to protect the 'already hard-pressed' system.

Bar chairman Maura McGowan QC said: 'The bar fears that these proposals, if implemented, will reduce even further the right of the less well-off to quality legal representation, whether in civil or criminal matters. That right is a basic tenet of a democratic society and should not be further eroded.'

The Law Society has commissioned research on the financial state of criminal firms and the likely impact of the proposed fee cuts. The survey ends on 17 May.