The government is set to usher in a new era of legal aid reform that could bode ill for criminal defence specialists fighting the latest attempt to slash fees.
In an ominous shift in terminology, justice minister Sir Oliver Heald told parliament that the Ministry of Justice will publish a green paper on ‘legal support’ next year.
He said: ‘The reform programme will deliver a justice system that is more accessible to the public. It aims to support people in resolving their disputes using simpler, modern procedures.’
The following day lord chancellor Liz Truss told peers how the Prisons and Courts Bill will change the justice system, saying fewer lawyers would be needed.
She said the green paper will provide more details about the system of online and virtual hearings, and more efficiencies in areas including family justice.
She added: ‘We don’t want to redo legal aid according to the system we’ve had before; we want to design a new system and we want to look at a new legal support mechanism around that system.’
Criminal defence practitioners have been gathering across the country to discuss the ministry’s plans to reform the advocates’ and litigators’ graduated fee schemes.
Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) chair Zoe Gascoyne said: ‘There is a strong desire among the profession to take action. The common ground among all practitioners is that the profession cannot and will not accept a further cut, however it might be dressed up.
‘At this stage the CLSA would urge the ministry to listen to the very strong representations that have been made collectively by the representative bodies in the hope that any disruption or period of instability can be avoided.’
Solicitors have also discussed the possibility of a march on 24 March, when the litigators’ graduated fee scheme consultation closes.