The Law Society has urged the Ministry of Justice to release for formal consultation a report on the criminal legal aid market which casts doubt on its controversial reform proposals.
The report, by PA Consulting, concluded that the primary rationale for the MoJ’s proposals - economies of scale - was doubtful, the Society said. Although the report was made available to the MoJ more than a year ago it has appeared on the ministry's website only in the past few weeks.
The Society was responding to a consultation exercise forced on the government last month by the High Court ruling that the government had been unfair in withholding the findings of two other studies, by Otterburn Legal Consulting and KPMG LLP from its consultation process on the reforms.
The Society has condemned the government’s proposals as ‘seriously flawed’.
Andrew Caplen (pictured), president, attacked the scope of the three-week consultation, which closes tomorrow. ‘The scope of the current consultation is extremely narrow, seeking views only on the two previously published reports and on the number of duty [legal aid] contracts to be allocated,’ Caplen said.
He called on the MoJ to release the PA report, which emerged during the judicial review process. ‘Given the relevance of the report by PA Consulting to any consideration of the viability of the proposed model we believe it is essential that this report should also be consulted on,’ he said.
‘In our view the proposed scheme fails to meet the ministry’s own objectives of ensuring that any future criminal legal aid scheme must be sustainable with sufficient numbers of solicitors doing criminal duty work.
‘The scheme could bankrupt solicitors’ businesses, leaving areas of the country with no legal representation for anyone accused of a crime and depriving vulnerable members of the public from access to justice,’ Caplen said.
Commenting on the evidence that shows the cuts pose serious challenges to the sustainability of access to justice across England and Wales, Caplen said: ‘Given the negative conclusions reached in both the KPMG financial modelling report and the PA Consulting report, together with the failure to date to address the numerous problems identified with the model for criminal legal aid contracts, the Society believes that the proposals are severely flawed.’