Price-competitive tendering could be back on the table if solicitors do not accept the government’s revised criminal legal aid reforms, the Law Society’s chief executive has warned.
Desmond Hudson urged solicitors not to oppose the amended Ministry of Justice proposals that resulted from talks with the Law Society.
The MoJ last week extended the consultation period on its revised reforms. It now closes on 1 November.
Hudson said: ‘It is vitally important that all solicitors recognise the reality of the current situation and the risks that the profession would incur in opposing the current proposed settlement.’
He said a ‘real prospect’ remained that, if this settlement is lost, price-competitive tendering would be reintroduced. ‘There are sufficient credible proposals available to the lord chancellor that would encourage him to think that PCT could be made to work – from his point of view,’ said Hudson.
His comments were made at a meeting last week organised by the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA), at which around 500 solicitors and barristers voted to reject planned fee cuts of at least 17.5%, warning they would damage the quality of legal aid services.
Former Court of Appeal judge Tony Hooper urged lawyers to ‘resolve not to do criminal legal aid work at the reduced level of fees proposed in the recent consultation’.
What form any action will take will be decided over the coming weeks.
Former LCCSA president Greg Powell told the Gazette that options under ‘active consideration’ include holding training days during the week or withdrawing labour from the police station and magistrates’ court.
Powell said that self-employed barristers ‘have no obligation to take new cases so they could refuse to take Crown court briefs until the cuts are taken off the table, which would grind the Crown court to a halt’.
Responding, an MoJ spokesman said: ‘At a time when everyone has to tighten their belts, lawyers cannot expect to be immune.
‘Any disruption of court schedules is unnecessary. It will not help lawyers and simply inconveniences the court, their clients and the taxpayer.’
Meanwhile, the duty solicitor survey on the financial position of criminal law firms, which is being carried out by consultants Andrew Otterburn and Vicky Ling, has been extended for one week, to 16 October, to give firms more time to take part.