Proposed criminal legal aid cuts condemned
A consultation on proposals which could cut over £40m in fees to criminal legal aid firms has been launched by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
Under the MoJ’s plans payments for case preparation in Crown Court cases will be reduced and the fees paid to advocates appointed by the court to cross-examine victims of abuse will be cut from private to legal aid rates. The Law Society has condemned the proposals and has published a new report from consultants on the financial viability of the criminal defence market.
The report by Oxford Economics forecasts expenditure in criminal legal aid based on trends in rates of crime and prosecution. It concludes that expenditure could fall by between £20-111m and argues that further savings could also accrue from efficiencies in the criminal justice system.
Speaking to Legal Action journal, Zoe Gascoyne, the Chair of the Criminal Solicitors Association (CLSA) said that the Oxford Economics report “shows the fragility of the profession” and the “decreasing spend” on criminal legal aid which means there is no “need for any cut.” Gascoyne slammed the consultation as “ill-timed” and in effect “holding a gun to practitioner’s heads as they are about to sign a new contract.”
A statement published by one of the largest criminal firms, Tuckers, argues that “the amount spent on criminal legal aid has already fallen further and faster” than was originally budgeted for by the MoJ and warns “the criminal justice system is not sustainable on its current course.” Tuckers is a member of the 40 strong Big Firms’ Group which undertake around 25% of all criminal legal aid cases.
In response to the MoJ’s proposals the CLSA has been holding meetings across the country to discuss their next move. The London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association also held a meeting last night for the same purpose. Criminal legal aid solicitors have been in a continuous battle with government for the last four years over cuts and were successful last year in fighting off plans for competitive tendering for legal aid duty contacts.
The MoJ’s consultation closes on 24th March.