Practitioner groups have urged solicitors to think carefully before speaking on public forums as they revealed further details of meetings with the Ministry of Justice over its legal aid reforms.
Representatives from the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association and Big Firms Group met the MoJ on Monday for a third round of talks since a nationwide legal aid boycott began on 1 July – when a second 8.75% fee cut was introduced. The Criminal Bar Association attended as an observer.
The CLSA and LCCSA said they presented four options for the ministry and Legal Aid Agency to consider ‘in terms of alternative savings’ to the second fee cut.
Their statement prompted demands for further details. One commenter said on the Gazette’s website: ‘I would be delighted to hear any one of the proposals to save costs. I really don’t like this approach at all. They are negotiating we are told on our behalf but we have not agreed either what we want or what we are prepared to give to get it.’
In an update to members ‘in the spirit of transparency’, the CLSA and LCCSA today said the four options presented to the ministry were:
- Remove payment for early cover on the basis that it is 'woefully inadequate'. The LAA must look long-term towards changing the legal aid application process so that firms can self-certify applications to expedite the process;
- Review court duty solicitor cover. Some courts have more cover than needed;
- Increase efficiency by transforming summary justice and adopting proposals put forward by Sir Brian Leveson's efficiency review earlier this year so that more cases are concluded at the magistrates’ court at first hearing;
- Review the litigator fee scheme in respect of multi-defendant cases so greater payment is made to solicitors representing second (50%), third (30%) and fourth (20%) defendants, subject to professional obligations, so firms have a greater incentive to represent a number of defendants in a case.
The lord chancellor is expected to be briefed on the options next week.
Stressing that negotiations were at an ‘entirely crucial stage’, the practitioner groups said: ‘We urge all members of the profession to think carefully before commenting in a public forum, however we welcome feedback through the appropriate channels, preferably through the CLSA and LCCSA committees.’