Defence solicitors began judicial review proceedings of the government’s Transforming legal aid cuts yesterday. The Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association are arguing that the consultation process was unlawful.
The CLSA and LCCSA claim a report by KMPG report was ‘unfairly and unlawfully withheld’ from lawyers ‘denying them an opportunity to make representations correcting fundamental mistakes and flawed assumptions’.
‘The faulty evidence in that report we say was then incorrectly applied to justify the government’s final 17.5% cuts and the massive savaging of access to justice by a dramatic cull of duty solicitor firms and inevitably thereafter non-duty firms that will follow.’
CLSA and LCCSA
According to Nicola Hill, president of the LCCSA, lawyers have raised over £100,000 for the JR ‘largely come from the profession – and interestingly a lot of barristers chambers.’ ‘The MoJ Justice commissioned the KPMG report and they did not disclose that before the consultation response was published – they should have done. It meant that those consulted did not have an opportunity to respond to some of the assumptions that they made and some of those assumptions were a bit bizarre,’ Hill said. ‘For example, they assumed solicitors who achieved a duty contract would give up all their own client work and when somebody said that wass not quite right they said that they assumed solicitors would give 50% of that work. Nobody is ever going to give up 50% of their work. Why would they?’
Also, the CLSA published a national ‘protocol’ for the withdrawal of good will in both the Crown and Magistrates’ courts where (in the group’s words) areas were ‘starting to suffer serious delays due to unrepresented defendants clogging up the system. Hull, Reading, Liverpool, Derby, Nottinghamshire, Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Coventry and Warwickshire were identified as ‘worst affected areas’.
‘We have tried to incorporate into one protocol the various practises around the country in the hope that by doing so, many more areas will now consider joining in,’ the CLSA explained. ‘We hope areas will meet to discuss how this protocol can be adopted in their area with a view to commencing on 1st June 2014. It remains of course entirely voluntary matter for each area and each individual. The creaking system has relied upon us by taking our goodwill and co-operation for granted for too long and this goodwill is now withdrawn.’
You can read the protocol HERE
According to the CLSA, the protocol was ‘inevitable’ as a result of ‘increasing pressure on the court system and its users’. ‘The system will have to get used to the change in the circumstances that are the result of these cuts and the refusal on behalf of the Ministry of Justice to reconsider its intention to tender for ‘dual contracts’ for own client and duty solicitor work and further reductions on fees of 8.75% effective 2015.’
‘No solicitor should be expected to work for free. Goodwill extended by solicitors acting in criminal cases has been abused for far too long. That goodwill is withdrawn until the Government withdraws its threat to access to justice for all but the wealthy. The protocol… will illustrate the fact that both courts are able to run effectively only with the goodwill of defence practitioners, who repeatedly make allowances for court and prosecution failings.
Access to Justice is ‘not a game’ and both clients and solicitors are entitled to know where they stand in terms of funding which should not be a matter of speculation where no one knows if the (often front loaded and labour intensive) work being undertaken will be paid for under a representation order. We are no longer going to engage in a form of commercial roulette by working on a speculative basis.’
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