Thousands of solicitors are expected to attend a rally to highlight the importance of justice as an election issue before voters head to the polls on 7 May.
The Vote for Justice Rally, which is being organised by practitioner groups the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, will take place at Central Hall, Westminster, London, on 23 April.
CLSA vice-chair Robin Murray (pictured) said: ‘We’re hoping to achieve a mass demonstration of support for the idea that justice matters in this general election.
‘We want to highlight these issues for the electorate so that Magna Carta rights, such as the right to a free trial for instance, are given reality by the proper provision of legal aid.’
Tony Cross QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, today appealed to its 5,000 members to campaign on behalf of solicitor colleagues affected by criminal legal aid reforms.
Cross said the association intended to join the protest rally. He added: ‘The outcome [of the election] will inform what action we take.’
According to a YouGov poll commissioned by the CLSA, nine out of every 10 respondents said legal aid was either fairly important or very important to ensure access to justice for all income groups.
The poll also showed that 84% of respondents said British citizens had a fundamental right to access to justice – compared with 82% who cited free healthcare at the point of use as a fundamental right.
Meanwhile, firms are currently preparing bids for 527 crime duty provider contracts. The deadline for applications is midday on 5 May.
Last month shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan wrote to Dame Ursula Brennan, permanent secretary at the MoJ, asking whether the decision to launch the tendering process ‘in the final hours before purdah’ complied with Cabinet Office guidance.
Brennan replied to say she was ‘confident the steps taken’ complied with the guidance.
Khan told the Gazette: ‘It is ridiculous that this contracting is going ahead during the purdah period. I have signalled very clearly that the Labour party will bin this reckless proposal and it would have saved a lot of upheaval and uncertainty if this had been put on hold until after the election.’
Firms will be notified of the outcome of the tender process in September. Service under the new contracts will commence on 11 January 2016 – three months later than originally planned.
Richard Miller, head of legal aid at the Law Society, said the revised timetable for the duty provider procurement process raised a serious question mark over whether firms would be capable of surviving a proposed second 8.75% fee cut this summer.
He said: ‘The Ministry of Justice went to great lengths in its decision of November 2014 to say that the gap of three months between the second fee cut and the new contracts was survivable because they had calculated that, as a result of new interim payments, firms’ incomes would “only” be 5% less in that period than pre-cuts.
‘But this new timetable means that if the fee cut proceeds in July as previously announced, the gap will now be six months.’
The MoJ has said the government inherited an unprecedented financial crisis which meant the ministry had no choice but to find significant savings in everything it did.
The reforms were designed ‘to help make the legal aid system more sustainable while ensuring anyone suspected of a crime has access to a legally aided lawyer of their choosing, just as they do now’.
New entities bidding for criminal legal aid contracts should apply for authorisation sooner rather than later, the Solicitors Regulation Authority said today.
The regulator has organised a series of events for practitioners and firms going through the authorisation process. The events will be relevant to any business or business model involving any structure or combination of lawyers or other authorised persons, or non-lawyer owners and managers.
An SRA webinar on authorisation will be held on 27 April, as well as a seminar in Birmingham on 21 April and one in London on 23 April.
For further information about firm-based authorisation see the SRA website.