A stable and diverse supplier base providing access to justice for some of the most vulnerable members of society could be achieved on the back of Lord Carter?s proposals, but the government and the profession, led by the Law Society, has much more work to do to implement the reforms successfully.
Kevin Martin, Law Society President, said:
?We have long argued that the present system has to be reformed. We need a system that is financially sustainable in the long term, and Lord Carter?s proposals, if properly implemented, could offer that. But more work is needed to develop these untested proposals. It is vital that fees are set at a viable level to achieve a sustainable system, which provides access to justice throughout the country.
?Lord Carter is proposing a system with fewer, larger legal aid firms. The Law Society is still not convinced that this will provide access to justice for all. However, we will work constructively with the Government to try to translate Lord Carter?s proposals into a system that will succeed on the ground. The Carter reforms will mean major changes for all legal aid firms and we are committed to supporting solicitors through the transition by providing practical help to enable them to restructure. The Law Society will play a very active role in the legal aid review body which will oversee the transition process and implementation of these proposals.?
With the move to implementation, the Law Society will work hard to ensure that:
- arrangements proposed to tackle advice deserts are effective, so that people living outside cities and large towns can still have access to legal aid.
- the timetable for implementation is sensibly staged with rigorous assessment built in at each stage.
- legal aid practitioners are properly and fairly remunerated and given a real prospect of improvements in their terms and conditions.
- effective transitional arrangements are in place, including adequate financial support, so that legal aid firms can afford to implement the major re-structuring which the new regime will require.
- the new regime facilitates the future entry to the market of new law firms and in particular those serving diverse communities.
Spending on civil legal aid - which includes family, housing and debt advice ? has fallen in recent years from ?564 million in 1999/2000 to ?490 million in 2004/2005
The number of law firms doing criminal legal aid has decreased over recent years. In April 2001, 3,500 firms had contracts to supply criminal legal aid services. This had reduced to 2,651 by September 2005.