Criminal law solicitors have called for a second legal aid fee cut imposed on litigators to be scrapped after government statistics revealed a significant reduction in legal aid expenditure.
The Ministry of Justice’s latest statistics bulletin shows that £886m was spent on criminal legal aid between October 2014 and September 2015.
The London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association told the Gazette there was ‘no economic case’ for the second 8.75% fee cut that was introduced on 1 July.
The association said: ‘As a marker, when [former lord chancellor Chris Grayling] announced the plans to cut 17.5% in 2013, he wanted to lose £215m by 2018/19. This would have taken the spend to £865m by that date.
‘We are £21m away from that target and we are only halfway through 2015/16 – and this is before the impact of the 1 July cut takes effect.’
According to the ministry’s report, expenditure on 'crime lower' was down 16% compared to the same period last year.
Crime lower includes work at the pre-charge and police station stage, the early court system (including magistrates’ court) and prison assistance.
‘This reflects the fact that work in the magistrates’ court, a relatively higher-cost area of crime lower, fell proportionately more than crime lower as a whole, and also the introduction in March 2014 of a reduction of 8.75% to the fees paid for most crime lower legal aid work,’ the report says.
The association said the MoJ could reach its original expenditure target ‘even if the July cut is reversed’.
It said: ‘The continued delay in any ability to consolidate will continue to undermine the viability of firms in the market as was accepted by the MoJ in the last judicial review.’
Earlier this month the High Court granted permission for judicial review of the government’s tender for new legal aid contracts. The JR is expected to be heard by the Divisional Court. The next directions hearing will take place on Monday.
The association said: ‘The July cut ought now to be reversed pending the outcome of the current judicial review proceedings until such time as it is known whether a new contract regime can be implemented.’
‘The original target for the savings will still be reached within the timeframe set out unless the MoJ has revised this target downwards. [We] have not seen any such announcement.’
A spokesperson for the MoJ said: 'We still have one of the most generous legal aid systems in the world, with £1.6bn spent last year alone.
'The spending review settlement we have reached with the Treasury ensures that we will continue to make legal aid funding available for those who need it.'