One of the main planks of the profession’s – sorry, ‘industry’s’ – opposition to price-competitive tendering is that, if implemented, ‘if you are accused of a crime, you will have to take the solicitor allocated to you’. This is the position already.
Suspects have a PACE entitlement (Code C, Notes for Guidance, paragraph 6B) to a solicitor of choice. However, the admirable duty solicitor scheme (originating, I believe, from a local initiative by Cardiff solicitors many years ago) operates on the basis of asking for ‘the duty’. Thereafter, should matters proceed to court, that same solicitor, or their firm, will normally retain conduct.
With the introduction of higher rights and the employment of in-house counsel, client choice of advocate is further eroded – an understandable cause of concern to the criminal bar. On this basis, opposition to PCT on the ground of reducing client choice appears misconceived.
Far better to focus on the inherently anti-competitive nature of the proposal, involving as it does the creation of 400 local criminal defence monopolies – possibly the precursor of a national Criminal Defence Service – and on the impact this is bound to have on the legitimate aspirations of many present and future members of our profession – sorry, ‘industry’ – to establish their own practices.
The frankly eccentric and opaque ‘tendering’ process (maximum starting bid and capped contract volumes; ‘price is not going to be the determining factor in all circumstances’) may also bear scrutiny. Government tendering projects have been known to come off the rails (witness errors around the award of the West Coast main line franchise).
Our profession – sorry, ‘industry’ – needs a legal Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust calamity like a hole in the head. PCT is a step in the wrong direction.
Alexander McCulloch, Haywards Heath, West Sussex