Law Society welcomes constructive engagement with Government on Legal Aid

The Law Society welcomed today’s acknowledgement by Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling of the value of maintaining client choice of solicitor for legally aided defendants, following a meeting between the Law Society President and the Lord Chancellor. In a letter to the Chair of the Justice Select Committee, Sir Alan Beith, Mr Grayling today indicated that he was ready to allow choice of solicitor to continue. The Society has also written to Sir Alan, indicating its readiness to work with the Government in developing its alternative to price competitive tendering.
Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, President of the Law Society said: “Our meeting with the Lord Chancellor last week demonstrated the benefits of constructive, though robust, engagement. By listening to us on client choice, the Government has shown it is serious about constructive engagement, which I welcome. Client choice of solicitor is a fundamental component of a fair justice system and a driver of quality in provision of legal advice.”
The Law Society also today published an alternative proposal to ‘transform’ criminal legal aid. The proposal has been offered to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) as a considered response to the Government’s consultation proposals in ‘Transforming Legal Aid’. The Society’s alternative proposal, published today on its website (link) is focused on three objectives: retaining client choice, bringing certainty to providers and facilitating efficiency in this part of the justice system.
Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, President of the Law Society, continued:
“It is clear that the MoJ is committed to change. We have composed a properly evidenced and considered alternative approach, which would shelve price-led competitive tendering, retain the important principle of clients being able to choose their solicitor and in doing so, maintain strong incentives for sufficient quantity and high quality of legal advice and representation.
“The current model is far from perfect, but if major change is to happen, it must result in a system which offers an attractive career to young lawyers and give commercial comfort so lenders will finance the investments necessary to overcome inefficiencies.
“I won’t pretend that our alternative, if adopted, will result in flags waving in every solicitor firm – it is in many respects the least worse solution. We have consulted with the main practitioner groups and where possible, addressed their major concerns. I am satisfied that, within the parameters of political reality, our proposal sets out a workable future for criminal legal aid clients, solicitors and the wider justice system that is a million miles away from the unworkable approach initially proposed by Government.
“On the evidence of today’s welcome move, I am hopeful that we can work with the Lord Chancellor and his colleagues to secure a sustainable future for criminal legal aid.”
The Society’s proposal is based loosely on the rolling General Medical Service Contracts for GP surgeries – where a contract is periodically renewed subject to meeting the statutory and mandatory obligations under the contract. Mandatory obligations of the legal aid contract would take the form of a Quality and Capacity Framework, which would specify a number of criteria a firm must achieve in order to retain its contract.
1 July 2013

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