Legal news from Aitken Harter Solicitors

Lord Chancellor announces decision to abandon two-tier duty contracts

I am pleased to see that common sense has prevailed at the Ministry of Justice. Yesterday’s announcement of the abandonment of “two tier” criminal contracting is a recognition of the misguided procurement process and a tacit acknowledgement that suspects and defendants deserve to be advised and represented by practices which place the quality of their work at the forefront of their professional engagement with each individual client. Louise Bullivant, Partner, Aitken Harter Solicitors

The Law Society press release.

Law Society welcomes MoJ decision to abandon two-tier duty contracts

28 January 2016

The Law Society welcomes the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) decision to abandon plans for the two-tier criminal legal aid contracting regime.

The MoJ, under the previous lord chancellor, had planned a radical reduction in the number of contracts for duty solicitors attending magistrates’ courts and providing 24-hour cover at police stations. The plans also included fee reductions of 17.5 per cent in two stages.

Responding to the announcement, Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said:

‘The Law Society is pleased that the lord chancellor has listened and recognised that the current situation is untenable. It is clear that a competitive approach to the provision of criminal legal aid services is not appropriate. Criminal legal aid solicitors provide 24-hour cover so that anyone accused of wrongdoing, including some of the most vulnerable in society, have access to expert legal advice. The assurance that there will be no competitive tendering in the future gives practitioners greater certainty for the future.

‘Suspending the second 8.75 per cent fee cut for a further twelve months will provide some assurance to solicitors and will help support the viability of criminal legal aid services across England and Wales. We have constantly said that we fear the profession will be unable to cope with significant fee reductions and are therefore relieved that the lord chancellor has listened to our concerns.

‘Criminal legal aid solicitors are at the heart of the criminal justice system, defending vulnerable suspects and upholding the rule of law. It is in the interests of the public, the legal profession, government and justice that high quality firms remain able to deliver the expert legal advice people need. The purpose of the criminal court system is to ensure justice for all by convicting the guilty and protecting the innocent. Of those who plead not guilty in the Crown Court, well over half are acquitted, which is why people accused of wrongdoing must be given access to good quality legal help, whatever their means.

‘We were concerned that firms could not continue to operate at reduced rates in the current market. Many criminal legal aid solicitors also faced costly litigation because of the significant and widespread concerns that the process of evaluation of the criminal legal aid duty solicitor tenders was flawed. We are pleased that this litigation can now be brought to a swift conclusion.’