Criminal legal aid solicitors will be such an endangered species by 2015 that Labour would not need to take forward plans for price-competitive tendering in the sector.
That is the startlingly frank opinion of shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan MP, who has given the Gazette an insight into the justice policy of an incoming Labour government should the party win the next general election. The coalition intends to begin consulting on tendering for criminal legal aid next year, after the previous administration abandoned the plan in the face of lawyer opposition.
But Khan does not expect this to be taken forward in the event of a Labour win, because there will be ‘far fewer’ criminal solicitors by 2015.
Khan, a former human rights solicitor, also voiced fears of a ‘lost generation’ as the reforms in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act drive women, and black and minority ethnic (BME) solicitors out of the profession. A disproportionate number of women and BME lawyers work in legal aid.
‘There has been real progress made in increasing access to the profession and diversity,’ he said. ‘I fear that will all be undermined.’ He expects the ramifications to be felt in the judiciary, where progress towards greater diversity will be rolled back. ‘These solicitors are tomorrow’s judges and we could see a generation lost,’ he added.
He went on call for a ‘culture change’ in law firms to allow more solicitors to join the bench. ‘There’s still a snobbishness that you need to be a barrister to become a judge, but that is rubbish,’ he said.
Despite his concern about LASPO, Khan would not pledge to reverse the scope cuts that take effect next April. ‘I can’t promise to reverse what the government has done and restore social welfare law or offer [other] cuts instead,’ he said.