Legal Aid

What lies beneath

PUBLISHED June 30, 2007

While music revellers were knee deep in the Glastonbury mud, legal aid lawyers were having less fun knee deep in a blizzard of paper. From the government?s response to the constitutional affairs select committee (CASC) to the figures for various fixed-fee schemes and a host of consultations issued by the Legal Services Commission, there is much detail to work through.

There are some positive signs from the commission ? such as phasing in fixed fees for family work ? but less so from the Ministry of Justice. To read its press release, you would think CASC backed the reforms. Its chairman, Alan Beith MP, was quick to respond that ?the government has still failed to recognise the fundamental flaws in its proposals?. He is pushing for a proper parliamentary debate and that cannot come too soon.

Yet more worrying was news that the Association of Major Criminal Law Firms had provided figures showing that, despite a combined turnover topping ?10 million on general crime, six of the largest practices in the country showed a net loss before partners? drawings. But the association has been told unofficially that ministers doubt the figures. What more can it do?

The revelation came in a letter it sent to Gordon Brown. The anti-Carter protests are getting ever louder, but there will be many groups demanding the new prime minister?s attention. Mr Brown must look beyond the savings and at the underlying issues.