Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Legal Aid - a possible shift in the government's position - Law Society's alternative proposals

Mr Chris Grayling MP
Updated 4th July - see addendum:

Beset on all sides by criticism of plans to reform criminal legal aid and in advance of his appearance before the Justice Committee on 3rd July, the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr Chris Grayling MP) has indicated that choice of solicitor will be retained in any reforms - The Independent 1st July.

Perhaps Mr Grayling hopes that he will now receive an easy ride from the committee.  Whether that is so remains to be seen.  According to the published information, the Justice Committee hearing is about Price Competitive Tendering but there is much more to the  Transforming Legal Aid proposals - e.g. prison law cases, judicial review etc.  (Law and Lawyers ~ Responses to Legal Aid consultation).

The Justice Secretary welcomed  the Law Society’s recognition
of the need for savings and said the Government was discussing with it how to achieve  “a managed market consolidation".  (The amount of 'management-speak' never ceases to amaze me)!

If PCT is to be retained then it is difficult to square that with real choice of defendants since PCT is based on a large reduction in the number of criminal legal aid providers.  'Choice' in such a system would seem to amount to a 'You can pick from this list' system with most defendants not knowing anything about the lawyers on the list.  Choice for defendants has huge practical advantages as mentioned by contributors to the recent Backbench Legal Aid debate.  Defendants are much more likely to accept advice about matters such as the correct plea when the advice comes from a lawyer they know and trust.

In April 2013, the Law Society published  Procuring criminal defence services: is there a better way? and this went out to consultation.

On 1st July, the Law Society published an alternative proposal which does not involve PCT.      This proposal seeks to retain choice; provide certainty and facilitate efficiency - see
It is generally accepted that the status quo cannot remain and that reform is required. However, the government's proposals to date are widely seen as an attack on the rule of law itself which Ministers are supposed to uphold.   The Law Society's alternative proposal is worthy of detailed consideration.

Addendum 4th July:

Gemma's blog - Why the Law Society proposed alternatives

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