There appear to be signs that the cabinet is split as to the government’s criminal legal aid proposals, after the deputy prime minister voiced concern over the changes and the attorney general appeared to endorse barristers’ concerns that the changes would ‘damage the justice system’. The consultation on the reforms, which seek to introduce price-competitive tendering, 17.5 – 30% fees cuts, limit funding for judicial review and remove client choice in selecting a lawyer to represent them at the police station, received around 16 000 responses. It is anticipated that the majority of these are likely to have been against the proposals.

Nick Clegg had described the plan to prevent people from choosing their own solicitor as perverse and warned that small high street law firms would be detrimentally impacted. He stated that “you could say that a government with Conservatives in it is reducing public choice rather than increasing it…the only straightjacket on all of this is the need to yield about £200m of savings in legal aid in criminal cases…on the back of the consultation we should see if there are alternatives, less disruptive, less unpopular ways of delivering that.”

Mr. Grieve, who as Attorney General is Head of the Bar, stopped short of directly criticising the reforms but recounted a speech he had given to the Bar Council in April where he stated that “the service provided by the legal profession is taken for granted and that there is a general view that whilst lawyers complained of every financial cut imposed, the edifice will continue to function as it has in the past” but he accepted the view that many barristers hold which is that the proposals will cause the edifice to collapse.

 

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