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MoJ to Press on With More Legal Aid Cuts

The government is to press ahead with controversial legal aid reforms despite being presented with evidence showing the devastating impact of the first round of cuts.

Changes confirmed in a ministerial statement from legal aid minister Shailesh Vara include further fee cuts from 1 July of 8.75% for solicitors representing those accused; and a reduction from 1,600 to 527 in the number of contracts for solicitors providing 24-hour cover at police stations.

The Ministry of Justice has decided not to reduce advocacy fees ‘at this stage’.

An independent review will commence in July 2016 to assess the impact of the fee cuts and dual contracting model.

Vara said the Moj had examined changes to its forecast legal aid expenditure, changes to the existing market, provider withdrawal rates and reasons, contract extension acceptance and early information from the duty provider contract tender. The Legal Aid Agency received 1,099 bids for duty contracts from 500 organisations.

‘This reassured us that legal aid reforms so far have not had any substantial negative impact on the sustainability of the service’, he said.

Law Society president Andrew Caplen said the Society was writing to Lord Chancellor Michael Gove to convey its disappointment, raise serious concerns and to ‘urge him to think again’.

He added: ‘Twenty years without any increase in fees, followed by two sets of cuts since 2010, had already pushed firms’ viability to breaking point. Now many solicitors practices undertaking this vital work in communities around the country will be forced to close. Others will struggle to survive as a result of this further 8.75% cut in fees.

The Society had shared with the MoJ evidence with from more than 120 firms who ‘are already suffering’ as a result of the previous round of cuts.

One solicitor cited in the evidence commented: ‘if this rate cut is implemented, the town in which we practise will have no criminal defence legal aid practitioner. We are already the last firm left standing, but we will stand no more.’ [Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette]