The Law Society today pledged further support for criminal solicitors, after its governing council met to discuss a request from practitioner bodies for financial backing for a legal challenge to the government's consultation on legal aid reforms.
Council agreed that chief executive Desmond Hudson would today write to the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association (LCCSA) and the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association (CLSA) proposing a strategy of mediation, with the costs of mediation to be met by the Society. Council also directed that should mediation not succeed, the Society will provide financial support enabling the groups to proceed with litigation if permission for judicial review is granted.
The LCCSA and CLSA claim an economic report prepared for the Ministry of Justice by accountants KPMG was 'unfairly and unlawfully' withheld by the ministry until after the consultation on legal aid cuts was closed. The groups allege that the report, on the appropriate number of duty contracts to award, was not released to the appropriate consultative parties, rendering the process unfair.
In a statement, Council said it recognised the 'deep concern' of criminal law practitioners at the lord chancellor's decisions and suggested the Society assist the parties by offering to fund mediation to resolve the issues.
Law Society president Nicholas Fluck said: 'The Law Society is acutely aware of the potential devastation facing criminal law solicitors. Council has today sent a clear message that the Society will do all in its power to support them.'
The Council motion provided that the Society would:
1. a) by letter, invite the claimants to propose mediation, with a stay of proceedings for that mediation, with the option that the Society be involved in that mediation;
b) offer to pay the claimants' costs of that mediation up to a maximum of £30,000.
2. Provided that the Society's mediation invitation is accepted by the bodies, and if the offer of mediation is not accepted by the government (or takes place but is unsuccessful), offer the claimants the sum of £45,000 in respect of their costs of the judicial review.