The country is facing ‘the biggest crisis in access to justice since the second world war’, shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve QC told the Bar Council’s annual conference last Saturday.
The warning came as Bar Council chairman Desmond Browne QC revealed that Lord Bach, the legal aid minister, had confirmed that the cuts to Crown court advocacy rates would be 18%, rather than the 23% initially suggested.
But Browne said the proposed cuts to criminal and family fees would drive experienced practitioners away from publicly funded work and deprive the most vulnerable in society of high-quality representation.
‘We are now heading for… two standards of access to justice dependent on the ability to pay,’ he said. ‘When the wolf is at the door, we can no longer be accused of crying wolf.’
Grieve agreed there was insufficient money to fund the system, but said the idea of getting more money from the Treasury was a ‘fantasy’.
He said other sources of funding, such as a contingent legal aid fund, legal expenses insurance and using the interest generated from pooling client money, should be explored.
Browne looked ahead to the ‘historic’ meeting on 19 November when the bar’s regulator, the Bar Standards Board, will decide whether to lift the ban on partnerships, which would permit barristers to join barrister-only partnerships or legal disciplinary practices (LDPs).
He also said he wanted barristers in LDPs to remain bound by the cab rank rule, which should be extended to cover solicitor-advocates in LDPs.
‘It would be a big change for solicitors, but if they wish to do advocacy they should do it in the same way as the bar,’ said Browne.