Justice secretary, Michael Gove, has announced that planned changes to the criminal legal aid system are to be scrapped in an effort to move away from the more authoritarian stance of the previous justice secretary, Chris Grayling.
In addition to scrapping plans for the controversial “dual contracting” scheme, a process which would see legal aid practitioners competing against each other for legal aid contracts, Gove has also confirmed he will postpone plans to cut fees paid to law firms representing defendants who could not afford to pay lawyers themselves. Cuts of 8.75 per cent to legal aid had already been introduced in March 2014 and this round of reductions would have been the second wave.
This announcement represents a significant U-turn in the Government’s position which is no doubt attributable to the tireless campaigning by criminal legal aid practitioners who have strongly voiced their opposition to the idea of competitive tendering in the legal aid system since the proposals were first announced.
Speaking about the announcement, criminal legal aid practitioner and solicitor at Swinburne Maddison, Allan Devine, had the following to say:
“The importance of criminal legal aid solicitors in our criminal justice system cannot be understated. They provide 24-hour advice and assistance to anyone accused of wrongdoing, including some of the most vulnerable in society, ensuring that everyone has access to expert legal advice, regardless of their means or status. The “dual contracting” proposals by the previous justice secretary were, to say the least, unrealistic, and would have resulted in increasing numbers of high quality firms being unable to deliver the advice people need. I am pleased to see that the Government appears to have listened to the concerns voiced by legal and professionals such as myself and recognised that a competitive approach to the provision of criminal legal aid services is in nobody’s interests.”
“Suspending the second 8.75 per cent fee cut for a further twelve months will hopefully provide further assurance to solicitors in this field and help support the viability of criminal legal aid services nationwide.”