A nationwide protest by solicitors and barristers against the government’s legal aid reforms is expected to continue into a second month after practitioner groups said discussions with the Ministry of Justice were ‘still ongoing’.
Representatives from the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, Big Firms Group and Criminal Bar Association met senior officials, including director of access to justice Shaun Gallagher and director of legal aid commissioning and strategy Hugh Barrett, for over an hour today. Justice secretary Michael Gove was not present.
CLSA committee member Zoe Gascoyne said the meeting ‘lasted longer than expected’.
LCCSA vice-president Julian Hayes said discussions were ‘still ongoing’.
Today’s discussion was the second the practitioner groups have had with the ministry since the boycott of new legal aid work began on 1 July - when a second 8.75% fee cut was introduced.
Attending alongside Gascoyne and Hayes were CLSA chair Bill Waddington, LCCSA president Jonathan Black and former president Paul Harris; Tuckers practice director Adam Makepeace, Reeds Solicitors managing director Jan Matthews and Digby Johnson, criminal solicitor and solicitor-advocate at The Johnson Partnership represented the Big Firms Group; 23 Essex Street Chambers’ Richard Bentwood, a member of the Criminal Bar Association’s executive committee, attended as an observer.
UPDATE 7pm: The MoJ is not willing to consider any representations that will impact upon the commencement of its two-tier legal aid contracts, the CLSA and LCCSA said this evening.
The ministry is pressing ahead with plans to reduce the number of contracts for solicitors providing 24-hour cover at police stations from 1,600 to 527. Service under the new contracts will commence on 11 January 2016. Firms will be told the outcome of the tender process next month.
Revealing details of today's meeting with the MoJ, Waddington and Black said the practitioner groups were invited to provide 'bankable savings that would be offset against a three-month suspension of the cut'. However, the ministry was told 'this was not an acceptable position as there are concerns that the proposals would be adopted without benefit to the profession'.
Waddington and Black said there would be further talks, involving the CLSA, LCCSA and BFG, in the next 10 days 'to find ways of resolving the current situation', which would involve providing alternative savings to the government.
'The [practitioner groups] will not be submitting proposals that amount to a further cut in rates,' Waddington and Black said. 'The representatives reinforced the point that the action would continue until matters were capable of favourable resolution.'