Price-competitive tendering plans abandoned but are we safe?
In short, the answer is no. Yes, Chris Grayling has recently informed the House of Commons that he has abandoned plans for price-competitive tendering in criminal legal aid however this does not mean we are safe.
The Justice Secretary has published a fresh consultation following a deal agreed with the Law Society. The initial consultation paper published in April was vehemently opposed and received severe criticism by a vast number of solicitors and barristers all over the country.
The new consultation, which requires responses within six weeks, proposes that criminal solicitors can continue to provide representation for own clients as long as minimum quality requirements are met.
In relation to duty slots, the Ministry of Justice are seeking views on limiting the number of duty contracts, allocating an equal number of slots to firms rather than allocating slots depending on how many duty solicitors there are at one firm, which is the current position. Eligibility will depend on capability and capacity assessments rather than firms bidding for work at the lowest price.
Alongside this, the government propose a 17.5% cut to fees over a two stage process. Firms involved in serious criminal cases which reach the ‘high cost’ threshold, will have their fees slashed by 30%.
Under the current plans, the scope of legal aid available for prison law will be restricted to proceedings before the parole board where the Parole Board has the power to direct release, as opposed to all cases that engage Article 5.4 ECHR. They also intend to keep sentence calculation matters where disputed as these matters have a direct and immediate impact on the date of release.
The impact upon criminal legal aid firms will be huge. The smaller legal aid firms across the country will suffer the most and may not even be able to sustain themselves, being the ones most unlikely to even receive a duty contract.
Emery Johnson Astills have a dedicated criminal team that represent both adults and young people both at the police station and court. Our staff are available to represent you at the police station 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Should you or somebody that you know find yourselves in a situation where you need representation either at the police station or court, please contact us on 0116 2554855.