Legal Aid Reforms Are Lawful
Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Cranston have this week held that the new Legal Aid reforms for criminal work are lawful.
Law Society president, Andrew Caplen said he was “extremely disappointed at this outcome” and followed by saying “We will continue to campaign for an effective, publicly funded defence system to prevent the risk of a sharp increase in miscarriages of justice.” Bill Waddington, chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, and Jonathan Black, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, said the proposed changes would be “a further nail in the coffin for access to justice for vulnerable people“
The Ministry of Justice are welcoming of this Judgement and have said that our legal system was a very expensive legal system and even with the reforms will still be very generous. Their spokesperson commented that “anyone suspected of a crime will still have access to a legal aid lawyer of their choosing, just as they do now”.
Publically Funded or Legal Aid work is carried out by firms through contracts with the Legal Aid Agency. These contracts at the moment are in relation to both own client and duty work. This means a firm that is awarded a contract can carry out both own client and duty work in the Magistrates Court and in Police Stations.
The Legal Aid Reforms mean that any firm can apply to have an own client contract and will not be refused unless they do not meet the criteria for holding a contract. There have been over 1808 contracts awarded in July 2014 of this nature.
The duty client contracts have been subject of some discussion and are not at present in force. This is where the changes are to occur as there is going to be a limit on how many firms are able to apply for them. The amount of contracts that are to be offered are to fall from 1600 contracts to 527 nationwide. In order to obtain one of these contracts each firm of solicitors must first go through a “Tendering Process” which began in November 2014. Those firms that are successful in the Tendering Process will be awarded the contracts and will be notified of the outcome in July 2015.
These reforms will inevitably mean that some smaller firms of solicitors will be forced to close as they will not have enough clients to maintain profitability and will lead to survival of the more powerful. It may lead to certain areas of the country not having any firms of solicitors available to help them and may face attending Court without any legal representation.
Andrew Caplen is eager to push forward and appeal the decision despite the objection from the Courts and the Ministry of Justice. Whilst it is a tough battle to fight solicitors have not given up and will support Andrew and the Law Society in trying to protect the Justice System in the UK.
You too are able to show your support you are able to obtain more information via the Law Society Website (https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/press-releases/criminal-legal-aid-duty-contracts-judicial-review/) and are encouraged to get involved in helping to support Solicitors nationwide by contacting your MP to show your support for your legal justice system.