Few would disagree with James Parry’s analysis of the present state of the criminal legal aid market. The supplier base is fragile after more than a decade of real-term reductions in fees. The argument is entirely about what can be done about the lord chancellor’s determination to reduce the criminal legal aid budget.
As a life-long legal aid practitioner and former leader of the profession, I have learned to my cost that there are no magic bullets to bring about what would have to be a sea change in the political climate. The government, which has an annual shortage of income almost equivalent to the entire provision allocated to run the National Health Service, argues that legal aid must share the pain and the public at present sadly seem to share that view.
The most iniquitous elements of the lord chancellor’s proposals related to restriction of client choice, price-competitive tendering with a baseline suggesting a substantial reduction in rates of at least 20%. At a meeting in June in parliament, Mr Grayling made it clear to the practitioners present (of whom I was one) that he was determined to reduce his department’s budget by a third, come what may. To have persuaded the government to have taken price-competitive tendering and restriction of client choice off the table and proceed with a cut of only 8.75% at this stage seems to me to have been the best that our president, as our leader, and our chief executive could have achieved in the current political environment.
It is my view that our president and chief executive have made the best of a bad job, however unpalatable that may be for those of us engaged in this important work. The battle to oppose future cuts must continue, but this can best be achieved by a unified approach spearheaded by our professional body. Mr Parry has unfortunately set his sights on the wrong targets.
Andrew Holroyd, former Law Society president, Liverpool