Solicitors this week condemned the government’s proposed criminal legal aid reforms as impractical and an attack on the quality of justice.
Richard Atkinson (pictured), chair of the Law Society’s criminal law committee, said plans to introduce price-competitive tendering for criminal defence work are ‘unworkable’ for firms of all sizes.
While plans to consolidate the market would put very small firms out of business, the contract model, with 17.5% fee cuts and limits on market share, is not financially viable for big firms.
Meanwhile, medium-sized firms would struggle to make the financial investment to restructure within the proposed timescale.
Tony Edwards, senior partner at large London firm TV Edwards, said his firm could not put in a bid under the proposals as it would be bidding at a loss.
Mike Mackey, partner at large Manchester firm Burton Copeland, said the position in Manchester, which will have up to 37 criminal legal aid providers, is ‘absolutely bizarre’. The three largest firms would suffer ‘huge turnover reduction’ and the number of contracts will ‘annihilate’ large firms rather than lead to the expected consolidation.
Criminal lawyers were united in condemning the removal of client choice. Edwards said this sacrifices ‘the only real measure of quality control’.
Kent solicitor Robin Murray called the plans a ‘dark piece of social engineering’ and ‘a fundamental attack on most people’s legal rights should they become a suspect and be at the mercy of a state-funded prosecution’.
Atkinson said the combination of flat fees and removing choice is a recipe for lower standards and reducing public confidence in the justice system.
The Criminal Law Solicitors Association has organised a meeting to discuss the consultation at 2pm on 22 May at Friends House, Euston.