Legal Aid

The LCCSA response: 'Lord Carters? recommendations are a disaster for access to justice'

PUBLISHED July 13, 2006

Lord Carters? recommendations are a disaster for access to justice for the public, and will force 1,000s of small law practices to close.

Linda Woolley, President of the London Criminal Court Solicitors Association (LCCSA), said:-

?We are convinced that Lord Carter?s approach to reform of the Legal Aid system will seriously damage access to justice and the quality of legal advice for the general public.  We seriously hope that the consultation process will enable the Government to see this is not the way forward.

?Lord Carter?s recommendations, announced today, will create advice deserts with the loss of high street solicitors. Fixed prices may prevent solicitors from doing what they need to do for clients, particularly in serious and complex cases. His recommendations will stop the recruitment of able and passionate solicitors to this area of legal practice in the future.  His approach to criminal legal aid solicitors undermines the Government?s consumer agenda, and key government policies for the public services namely, Social Inclusion, Choice, Access and Diversity.

?The Government is about to embark upon a Consultation on Lord Carter?s proposals. The LCCSA looks forward to a constructive engagement with the Government to ensure that any reform of the procurement system ensures that quality and access for the public are adequately protected.  There is still an opportunity to take forward what is a complex and mature market, with positive policies to enhance Social Inclusion, Choice, Access, Quality and Diversity.?

Greg Powell, Vice President of the LCCSA, added:-

?Legal Aid is an essential service that connects millions of people to rights and justice. We believe the government recognises the value of that service and the dedication of the lawyers who provide it. The Carter proposals are a dangerous mix of fantasy and experimentation. After a decade of stagnant prices and appalling management, implementation of these proposals would force the closure of firms and further contract the supplier base. 

?His proposals envisage eliminating many existing firms and their offices, and replacing them with mini monopolies. In this way the proposals represent a step into the unknown. Coming at the end of a decade of stagnant prices it is likely that many suppliers will be unable to bear the cost of the new, lower prices.

?In future, consumers will have very little choice as to whom they can appoint as their solicitor unless they have the means to pay privately. We are particularly concerned at the prospect of the closure of many small firms with a black, minority and ethnic profile. 

Avtar Bhatoa, Vice Chair of Solicitors Association of Higher Courts Advocates, said:-

?Carter recognises that the justice system in England and Wales is one of the most highly regarded justice systems in the world. The proposed new fee system in the Crown Court is a direct attack on the capacity of defence lawyers to do their job properly. We are not convinced that these cuts can be justified, especially as fee levels have already been reduced in the last 12 months.