Victory! Ministry of Justice scraps controversial contracting scheme for legal aid
Here at Fonseca and Partners, we've followed the news regarding legal aid very closely over the past couple of years, and have frequently written articles about the impact of legal aid cuts on access to justice and solicitors. The news hasn't always been pleasant for those working in the legal industry, but the government has now announced that a major reform of the legal aid system has been scrapped.
Back in February 2014, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announced proposals to reduce the number of legal firms allowed to undertake duty solicitor work in police stations and magistrates’ courts by two thirds – from 1,600 to 527. The MoJ also planned to introduce an 8.7% cut in solicitors’ fees as a way of bringing down the cost of Britain’s legal system.
The plans were heavily criticised by the Law Society and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association, along with many other leading voices in the industry; barristers even went on strike over the reforms.
Following an almost two-year long battle, the new Justice Secretary Michael Gove has now announced that the controversial contracting scheme will be scrapped, and the planned 8.75% fee cut will be suspended for a period of 12 months from 1 April 2016. In a statement, Michael Gove said that the MoJ had faced too many legal challenges over the plans, and that the litigation reforms would be “time-consuming and costly for all parties, whatever the outcome”.
The legal industry has welcomed the legal aid U-turn
Unsurprisingly, Mr Gove’s statement on scrapping the criminal legal aid contracting scheme and suspending the fee cut was warmly received by all in the legal industry. The Law Society’s president, Jonathan Smithers, said that he was pleased that Mr Gove had listened to solicitors’ concerns, adding that the news will provide some assurance to solicitors in England and Wales and support the viability of criminal legal aid services.
Mark Fenhalls QC, of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), also added that the decision by the MoJ to scrap the plans was the right one, as they were "flawed". He continued by saying the CBA is fully committed to working alongside the MoJ and the legal profession to ensure that the British public are once more served by a world class justice system. The CBA also expressed their delight that the fee changes were suspended, thanking Mr Gove for his “courage”.
Going forward, the Justice Secretary said that he will “review progress” on the work of the profession to improve quality and efficiency at the beginning of 2017, and will return a decision on the fee cut before April 2017. Closing his statement, Mr Gove stressed the importance of reducing unnecessary bureaucratic costs in the current legal aid system; to achieve this, an advisory council of barristers and solicitors will be created.
As a small personal injury solicitors firm that prides itself on offering only the best service to our clients, we are pleased that Mr Gove has scrapped these controversial legal aid proposals. If you have suffered an injury that wasn't your fault, contact us today on 0800 156 0770 or visit us in our office based in Ebbw Vale, South Wales.