Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Further reforms to legal aid

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At the end of February, the Government announced its latest plans for reforming the legal aid scheme. The focus is centrally on criminal legal aid. The main driver remains cutting public expenditure on legal aid.

The latest proposals focus on three key elements:

1 Reducing the fees paid for services provided under the criminal legal aid scheme. Under the latest proposals, the cuts will impact more severely on more established practitioners (on average a 6% reduction) with a reduced impact on junior members of the criminal bar. The Government has undertaken to review the effect of these changes in 12 months time. There will also be a further reduction in solicitors’ fees of 8.25% which takes effect in March 2014. Again the Government has undertaken to review the impact of this change in summer 2016.

2 Recognizing the business impact that these cuts will have on practitioners, the latest paper suggest that the Government is prepared to provide some assistance to firms to restructure themselves and to develop business models more viable in the new tougher economic climate. This will include providing specialist help and guidance on where further financial help could be available to lawyers who need access to finance to help restructure their businesses. It will be very interesting to see whether this initiative simply gets up the noses of practitioners and makes them even more dissatisfied; or whether there will be practitioners who can see that new ways of doing things could be more cost effective and enable them to make money as well as deliver a service to the public.

3 Potentially the most interesting aspect of the latest announcement is that there will be a review of procedure in the criminal justice system to see ho far pre-trial steps can be taken without requiring the attendance of practitioners in court. This could help to drive out some waste.

Debate about how legal aid will continue to be a battle between government and practitioners. My own view is that there is no likelihood of return to the funding levels that existed before the current cuts were introduced. Lawyers committed to delivering legal services to the public will continue to be challenged to offer those services in different and more cost-effective ways.

For the text of the Government response to consultation see:
https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-legal-aid-next-steps and click on Government Response to Consultation.

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Written by lwtmp

March 3, 2014 at 10:44 am

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