The government has stepped up efforts to ensure that a nationwide legal aid boycott causes minimum disruption in the Crown court as it prepares to meet practitioner groups for a further round of talks.
The Legal Aid Agency has created a telephone service to provide information for legal aid clients seeking legal representation for Crown court cases.
The agency said the service will offer clients ‘details on possible options’ to obtain representation. Court staff will also be able to use the number - 0333 003 7060 - to help unrepresented defendants.
The agency said additional firms that wished to make services available through the phone line should contact the agency through their contract manager.
The ministry is to meet practitioner groups on Tuesday – the third round of talks since a second 8.75% fee cut was introduced on 1 July, prompting thousands of solicitors to boycott new legal aid work.
Confirming next week’s meeting, the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and London Criminal Court Solicitors’ Association today urged a ‘steadfast approach for now in terms of the action so as to keep our position as strong as possible’.
Following a meeting with MoJ officials earlier this week, the CLSA and LCCSA said the ministry was 'not willing to consider any representations’ that would affect the commencement of its two-tier duty provider contract plans. (The ministry is expected to announce the outcome of its tender process for 527 duty provider contracts next month. Service under the contracts will begin on 11 January next year.)
The ministry did, however, invite the practitioner groups to ‘to provide bankable savings that would be offset against a three-month suspension of the cut’.
According to MoJ figures, each 8.75% cut delivers £60m in savings a year; three months’ savings amount to £15m.
The CLSA and LCCSA said the ministry’s offer was ‘not an acceptable position’, but confirmed further talks would cover ‘alternative savings’.
The groups said today they ‘remain committed to fighting against the cut which we know to be unsustainable and against two-tier which we have fiercely opposed for two years’.
When pressed for further details about the meetings, CLSA chair Bill Waddington told the Gazette the groups were unable to elaborate further as they were 'at quite a delicate stage’ in the discussions 'and it is therefore important that we focus entirely on seeking to achieve the best possible outcome for our members and the criminal justice system’.