Monthly Archives: November 2014

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Ministry of Justice Will Proceed With Changes to Criminal Legal Aid

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced that it will continue with plans to reform the criminal legal aid system. Next summer will see further fee reductions of up to 8.75%,and two-tier legal aid contracts are also to be implemented.

The MoJ also announced that the proposed number of tender contracts will be raised from 525 to 527. The tender process started today and is set to continue for two months, with bidders set to be notified of the MoJ’s decision in June of next year. This information as contained in the MoJ’s response to the consultation titled Transforming Legal Aid.

Like previous reforms to the legal aid system, the upcoming changes to criminal legal aid have not proved entirely popular among professionals within the industry. For example Andrew Caplen, president of the Law Society, said that solicitors have been “extremely disappointed” by the MoJ’s decision to proceed. Caplen also questioned the government’s opinion that criminal legal aid work would, in the future under the reformed system, continue to remain sustainable.

Two other groups, the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association, have said that they are looking into the possibility of mounting a new legal challenge with the intention of halting the plans. A previous challenge by these groups led the high court to decide that criminal legal aid reforms had been introduced unlawfully, and it was this which led to the Transforming Legal Aid consultation.

The consultation placed the reports carried out in February by KPMG and Otterburn Legal Consulting Ltd under particular scrutiny. It looked at the assumptions used by the firms in deciding how many duty provider contracts to make available.

Based on the responses received by the consultation, the Ministry of Justice decided that no action was necessary beyond the slight increase in the number of contracts. Respondents, it said, had not provided new evidence which required any further amendments.

Despite the concerns of solicitors and professional bodies, the government continues to defend its new model. It provided a summary stating that firms would be able to confidently put resources into efforts at restructuring “in the knowledge they would be in receipt of larger and more certain volumes.”

The government’s summary went on to claim that “This contracting approach also gives the government the assurance it needs that those accused of a crime will have access to a lawyer by maintaining a sustainable legal aid service.”