The news about a partial but significant U-turn on changes to the legal aid system and criminal justice system more widely are welcome news for one of my clients a Manchester Public Access Barrister
The changes to the legal system which have brought about the advent of the Public Access Barrister are part of a wider set of changes to the criminal justice system.
As the Guardian reports “Plans to award legal aid contracts to the lowest bidders following criticisms it would reduce justice to a “factory mentality” have been scrapped.
The justice secretary, Chris Grayling, ditched the proposals after drawing up the government’s latest legal aid reforms with the support of the Law Society”
MPs and others had been raising fears tendering for legal aid based principally on cost would allow multinational firms to provide justice with quality of service a distant second.
Discussions have been going on throughout the summer between the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, and Ministry of Justice officials in an attempt to modify the proposals.
The Ministry will begin a fresh consultation on a redesigned set of proposals. These will carry the same savings of £220m, which will be achieved via cuts to fees and other measures for example reducing pre-trial hearings that could be carried out by email or videolink.
Many barristers will welcome this latter move which will make their jobs and the running of the Courts more efficient.
It has been reported by The Times that Christopher Grayling will announce the removal of legal aid in 11,000 cases brought by prisoners each year and an end to automatic legal aid for defendants with a combined annual disposable income of £37,500 a year and at least £3,000 in the bank each month after essential bills.
Steve Hynes, the director of the Legal Action Group, commented: “If the government backs down on competitive tendering, that’s a victory for the Law Society, but I would be extremely surprised if they back down on the volume of fee cuts.
“They will keep the existing number of suppliers in the system at a time when there’s a decreasing volume of work. You will get the same number of providers scrambling for a lower volume of cases.
The Guardian says that “the dropping of price-competitive tendering is the MoJ’s second climbdown over changes to legal aid. It has already abandoned proposals that would have prevented defendants from choosing which solicitor represents them.”
Defending the need for savings, the MoJ said: “At around £2bn a year we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world. At a time when everyone is having to tighten their belts we cannot close our eyes to the fact legal aid is costing too much and has mushroomed into something far bigger than it was intended to be.
Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, commented: “Although I welcome reports the Tory-led government is about to abandon parts of its half-baked plans for criminal legal aid, I fear mark two will still deny access to justice to millions whilst reducing our justice system to a two-tier one with only the wealthy being able to secure a fair trial.
For more information about the Public Access Barrister system visit www.barristeraccess.co.uk