Duncan Lewis


Asylum, Detention/ Fast Track

Managed Migration, Public Law

Criminal legal aid bill could be further restricted by £220m as a consultation has been launched to that effect.

Date: (9 April 2013)    |    

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The proposals include stopping defendants with a disposable income of more than £37,500 from automatically receiving legal aid and curbing prisoner’s right to legal aid.

It also makes way for the lawyers to compete for contracts. The Law Society, representing solicitors in England and Wales said that it could be “catastrophic”.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) consultation document set out key areas for savings in the next phase of legal aid reforms.
The Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said last month that criminal defence was by far the largest element which took the major chunk of the remaining legal aid bill accounting to more than £1bn a year.
BBC legal correspondent Clive Coleman said the government wanted to introduce price competition in the legal aid market because it wanted to achieve economies of scale with fewer, bigger firms.
He said there were currently more than 1,600 organisations providing legal aid services.
Now tenders would be called in the autumn 2013 and the first contracts will be in place by autumn 2014.
But the Law Society said it was unlikely that tendering would save the sort of sums of money the Treasury was looking for and there was some doubt whether it was going to save anything at all.
The Bar Council, of England and Wales, has warned that a model based on price competition was a blunt instrument. It was no guarantee of the safeguards and qualities which is expected from the justice system chairman Maura McGowan QC said.
She added that decision of work should be made on quality and not on money alone.
Other plans being consulted on include denying prisoners legal aid unless the case relates to their sentence. Mr Grayling has said taxpayers' money was being used for "unnecessary legal cases" that could be dealt with by the prison service.
The move would cover issues such as the category of prison or which section of a prison an inmate was being held in and levels of visits and correspondence.
The consultation also includes plans to tighten rules allowing recent immigrants access to legal aid. And fees paid to lawyers in long and complex criminal trials would be cut.