Nearly 24 hours and 89 phone calls were required to find a solicitor to represent a police station detainee last week, the Gazette has learned, as a boycott of legal aid work following fee cuts continued to pile pressure on the justice system.
The Ministry of Justice denied claims that its Duty Solicitor Call Centre (DSCC) is buckling under the pressure.
The DSCC provides 24-hour access to criminal legal advice for people detained by or scheduled to be interviewed by the police. According to DSCC figures seen by the Gazette, in one case a first call about a detainee was made at 2.02pm on 3 July. The DSCC made 89 phone calls and a solicitor was believed to have been deployed after the last call was made at 1.40pm on 4 July.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said it was ‘untrue to suggest the DSCC is not coping with demand’.
Meanwhile, legal aid firms have been left in limbo over the future of duty contracts in procurement areas where the Legal Aid Agency received insufficient bids.
Last month, the LAA revealed it had received insufficient bids in three procurement areas: Devon and Cornwall 1 (Devon), Dyfed-Powys 2 and Hampshire 2 (Isle of Wight).
An MoJ spokesperson said the LAA met with local providers in the three areas to discuss ‘next steps’.
Stephen Nunn, managing partner of Nunn Rickard Solicitor Advocates in Exeter, which did not bid for contracts, said suggestions put forward by the agency included contracting firms outside Devon and removing a requirement for a firm to have an office in the area.
Nunn said firms have heard ‘absolutely nothing’ since the meeting, which took place last month.
Meanwhile, lord chancellor Michael Gove met representatives from the Big Firms Group, whose 37 members carry out around 25% of criminal legal aid work. The group said in a statement that Gove ‘gave no indication that he would reverse the [second 8.75% fee] cut at this stage’.