The Bar Council has called on the Ministry of Justice to reconsider its ‘discriminatory’ legal aid cuts that it warns will ‘irreversibly undermine access to justice’ and create a two-tier service.

It is urging all barristers to write to their MPs alerting them to the dangers of the plans to make further legal aid cuts and introduce price-competitive tendering (PCT) for criminal cases.

In a paper published today, the Bar Council says the proposals will ‘irreversibly undermine access to justice and damage the reputation of the justice system worldwide’.

In forthright language, the paper warns that:

  • Removing a suspect’s ability to choose their lawyer will mean that quality disappears. ‘Instead of having equal access to justice regardless of means, we will have a two-tier system: one for those who can afford high-quality representation and one for those who can’t.’
  • PCT will inhibit competition and make suppliers into ‘processors’ of justice and incentivise them to do the ‘minimum work at the lowest acceptable standard’.
  • Reducing the number of suppliers from 1,600 to a maximum of 400 will create advice deserts, making it harder for millions to get appropriate advice, especially in rural areas.

Meanwhile, any savings will be outweighed by the costs of having inexperienced providers offering legal services at the lowest price, with a consequent increase in appeals and miscarriages of justice.

The paper says the cuts faced by legal aid lawyers have been the ‘harshest’ anywhere in public services, driving the best lawyers away from public service law, with the greatest impact on female and black and minority lawyers.

Further cuts to civil legal aid, the introduction of a residence test and limiting judicial review will ‘severely weaken the fundamental principle of equality before the law’, hitting the most vulnerable, particularly in housing and immigration cases, the Bar Council says.

Read the full paper.

The Bar Council has also started a petition against the changes with campaigning group 38 Degrees.

Another petition, started by Exeter solicitor Rachel Bentley, is on the Number 10 website. If it receives 100,000 signatures, it may lead to a debate in House of Commons.

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