Divesting legal aid spend from the Justice systems is illogical. The legal aid spend is directly related to how the Justice systems are managed, run, operated and funded.
The legal aid spend is also driven by number of arrests, number of people being charged to Court, how the guilty are punished and how prisoners are processed through the Prison estate.
Some popular newspapers and some politicians blame legal aid spend on lawyers. The rise in the number of legal aid lawyers is said to have driven the purported rise in legal aid spending. That’s a bit like blaming a rise in doctors for the rise in ill health.
Luckily for us all The Justice Committee has published a report into legal aid spending (see page 12)
Legal aid is mostly paid through fixed fees. The high hourly rate and milking of cases for which lawyers are purportedly famous doesn’t therefore apply in legal aid cases. The fee is fixed. The remuneration fees are published.
Also to undertake legal aid work Solicitors have to have a contract with the Legal Aid Agency. Solicitors are audited by the LAA. Solicitors have to show expertise to be given a contract.
There has only been cuts to legal aid fees for years. This is because politicians won’t address the real costs drivers.
There is no need for nor justification for further legal aid fee cuts.
The Law Society has published an alternative to the MoJs PCT proposal. For this some (and no one can be quite sure how representative they are of the whole) have claimed betrayal.
I have read these proposals. I don’t find them abhorrent. I am in a two partner firm.
The criminal legal aid market is contracting. Fewer people are being brought to Court. Fewer being arrested. Fewer are in prison. The Law Society alternative offers a pathway through that reality.
We also have a SSJ who doesn’t care about sustainability of law firms (despite what he says) and who has the power, without reference to Parliament, to set new lower fee rates.
My view is that the Conservative Party dislikes interference with and challenge to Government. The Abu Qatada debacle is an example. Apparently the law was wrong. The Human Rights Act and The European Court were to blame for stopping the Government from doing what it wanted to do. Yet he has been deported. That’s because the Home Secretary and the Government complied with the law.
The PCT proposals also attack Judicial Review because that is how people challenge the Government.
There is soon to be a debate in the Lords on legal aid reform. The briefing Note is very informative.
Now that the epetition has exceeded 102000 signatures I would hope thee is a proper debate and vote in Parliament-the sooner the better.