Lord chancellor Brandon Lewis insists solicitors will benefit from the government’s criminal legal aid reforms as law firm employers prepare to discuss potential action.
After repeatedly being praised by members of his party for bringing an end to the criminal bar’s strike over legal aid funding, Lewis told the House of Commons today that he will set out further plans for all parts of the profession as part of its response to the Bellamy review at the end of November.
However, Labour’s Valerie Vaz asked the justice secretary why solicitors were only receiving a 9% uplift in fees, which had prompted the Law Society to issue a warning if the government fails to bridge the funding gap between solicitors and barristers.
Lewis said: ‘I’m not sure many people would class 9% as “only” but it also doesn’t reflect some of the other investment that solicitors will benefit from, for example the substantial investment in youth courts. But we will be responding more widely for the whole profession to [the Bellamy review] and will be working with the relevant societies and associations.’
However, the justice secretary continued to be pressed on why the government was not uplifting solicitors’ fees by 15% as recommended by the Bellamy review.
Labour’s Andy Slaughter, a member of the House of Commons justice select committee, said 9% was below the rate of inflation and followed a 25-year pay freeze. ‘So when is he going to look at the issue of solicitors’ fees properly,’ Slaughter asked. Shadow legal aid minister Afzal Khan asked if the proposals would be adjusted to meet the recommendations of the Bellamy review.
Lewis replied: ‘We will be responding to the full [Bellamy] report, we will be working with solicitors as well. There is a wider package for the entire criminal justice system, even including what we have announced as part of the Criminal Bar Association package. There are substantial chunks in there that will benefit solicitors as well.’
The government's revised deal to end the criminal bar strike has left solicitors unhappy.
Crime contract holders will meet on 8 November in Birmingham to discuss next steps at an event organised by DG Legal and Rock Management Services. 'The fact that the bar have achieved two successful increases in pay through direct action in the last five years is galling for the solicitors’ profession, that has a very different contractual arrangement with the Legal Aid Agency. We understand the desire of solicitors to be more effective in their negotiations with the MoJ,' a description of the event states.
This article is now closed for comment.