The London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) has confirmed that it will back the Law Society’s proposals to consolidate the criminal defence market, but oppose its suggested change to the duty solicitor scheme, following a postal ballot of its membership.
In the ballot, 50% of respondents voted in favour of reducing the number of firms with criminal legal aid contracts. Of those 79% said that the consolidation should be at the slower pace proposed by the Law Society, rather than the swifter approach proposed by the government, which would immediately remove 75% of firms.
Among its proposed alternatives to the government’s planned reforms, the Law Society suggested severing the link between the number of duty solicitors employed by a firm and the number of duty slots allocated to the firm. Instead it proposed that duty slots should be apportioned on the basis of the volume of work carried out over the past year.
Just over two-thirds (68%) of LCCSA members voted in favour of preserving the link between duty solicitors and duty slots, so the association will oppose breaking the link.
The association, which has some 800 members, said in a statement that there is scope for improving the duty solicitor arrangements to address the selling of slots and so-called ‘ghost’ solicitors who are nominally employed by firms only in order to secure duty work.
The association said it would seek to provide an alternative proposal to improve the arrangements without breaking the link.
Three-quarters of those voting said that London should be treated separately from other parts of the country because of its ‘unique characteristics’.
The Ministry of Justice is expected to publish a second revised consultation on its legal aid reforms later this month.