Local lawyers confront Grayling over legal aid cuts

Cuts to legal aid would lead to ‘solicitor deserts’, raise the risk of miscarriages of justice, and would cost the taxpayer more than the current system, local law societies have told Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling at a meeting in Westminster.
The meeting, arranged by the Law Society, saw the Lord Chancellor come under increasing pressure from solicitors opposing the £220 million legal aid cuts announced in April this year. Local law society representatives from across England and Wales called for the Lord Chancellor to rethink plans to introduce price competitive tendering (PCT), his proposed means of cutting the cost of legal aid.
Rural areas would be particularly affected by the introduction of PCT, which would lead to ‘solicitor deserts’, the Lord Chancellor was told. Whereas Cornwall alone is currently served by 13 legal aid firms, the Government proposal would see only 10 firms serving the whole of Devon and Cornwall.
Helen Johnson, president of Leicestershire Law Society, impressed upon the Lord Chancellor the impact the Government’s proposals would have on quality of legal representation, with financial incentives to plead guilty risking miscarriages of justice.
In the meeting Grayling attempted to defend the removal of client choice, saying that restricting client choice was necessary in order to guarantee volumes of legal work.
Lawyers also feared the changes would fail to deliver savings, saying the new system could end up costing the taxpayer more.
The government issued details of its plans to introduce PCT for criminal legal aid in its April consultation. The consultation, due to close on 4 June, includes measures to cut a further £220 million from the legal aid budget.
Joy Merriam, Chair of the Law Society Access to Justice committee and Council Member for Criminal Defence, said: “The Lord Chancellor heard loud and clear from local law societies that there is serious and united opposition to price competitive tendering nationwide. Access to justice would suffer, affecting rural areas in particular. Concerns of this nature can no longer be overlooked by the Lord Chancellor.”

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