A leading Stoke-on-Trent criminal defence firm has applied to go into voluntary administration, sparking fears that other firms will follow suit as the government prepares to shake up criminal legal aid.
Carney Solicitors, set up by Michael Carney in 1998, closed its doors last week.
A spokeswoman for the firm, which employed 43 people in its two offices in Hanley and Leek, blamed legal aid cuts as the primary reason for the closure.
The administrator is Leicester firm G2 Insolvency. A meeting to formally wind up the firm will take place next week. No financial details are yet available.
Commenting on the development, the Law Society’s head of legal aid Richard Miller said: ‘This news, coming hot on the heels of the news about Challinors, serves to underline the point we have been making to the Ministry of Justice, that firms undertaking criminal legal aid are economically vulnerable - even at current rates of remuneration.’
‘If the ministry insists on cutting rates still further, then regardless of any restructuring of the market, it will be taking a significant risk of accelerating the collapse of its supplier base,’ he added.
A Legal Aid Agency spokesman said: ‘Our priority is to work with the firm to ensure its small number of client cases are passed onto one of the many local criminal legal aid solicitor firms.
‘We’re already in discussions with a number of these firms, and hope to conclude them in the very near future, to ensure client care is maintained.’
Meanwhile, the Solicitors Regulation Authority has intervened to close south London criminal defence firm Gani & Co.
According to a notice on the regulator’s website, the SRA had grounds to intervene as sole partner Zarina Gani had been adjudged bankrupt.
The Brixton-based firm was opened in 1999, and in 2008 Gani won the Legal Aid Criminal Defence Lawyer of the Year Award, at the Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group’s annual awards. According to its website, the firm has two associates, one consultant and three other members of staff.