The lorry magnate Eddie Stobart this week incurred the wrath of the criminal defence profession when Trevor Howarth, group legal director for Stobart Barristers, likened firms to ‘wounded animals waiting to die’ and revealed that it was considering bidding if price-competitive tendering is rolled out by the government. .
The logistics business, the Stobart Group last year launched its direct access service to ‘link members of the public and businesses direct to a barrister without needing to employ a solicitor’. ‘It is by some distance the most unexpected development so far in the post-Legal Services Act world,’ noted Legal Futures. At that point Stobart Barristers had no ambitions to become an ABS and, instead, planned to run under the 2004 public access regime.
It was reported in the Law Society’s Gazette yesterday that Stobart Barristers were gearing up to bid. ‘It’s right to say our business model was developed with this in mind,’ Trevor Howarth said. ‘Without knowing the government’s full proposals, it’s fair to say we’re in line with their thinking.’
Michael Turner QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association recently told LegalVoice about his concerns for the ongoing deregulation programme under the Legal Services Act and the introduction of alternative business structures. The prospect of legal aid contracts going ‘into the hands of the likes of the Co-op, Eddie Stobart and ABSs’ was ‘absolutely extraordinary’, he said. ‘Once you are an ABS, you’re paying corporation tax at 23%. It’s all about handing it over to the private sector who are fleecing them on contract price and then they aren’t even getting the amount of tax back that they should.’
Trevor Howarth apparently called the current model of defence practice ‘unsustainable’. ‘There are so many practices doing identical work on certain rates. You cannot run a practice like that. You’ll see a number of proposed mergers, which is not going to improve those firms with a legacy of debt. It was also reported that Stobart Barristers would also be looking to recruit solicitor-advocates should the pCT regime be introduced.
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