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Yesterday over 100 solicitors and barristers, representing the legal professional on Merseyside met to consider the impact of the next tranche of cuts planned to the legal aid budget by the government.
As a result of that meeting the lawyers present released a joint statement, criticising these latest cuts, which are due to come into force in July 1st this year. As well as describing the cuts as “untenable”, lawyers from Canter Levin & Berg and other local firms went onto say that if the cuts are implemented:
“Solicitors will have sustained a 17.5% cut over a 15-month period in a profession that has not seen an increase to rates in over 20 years. The government recognises that the profession is fragile and yet continue to take grave risks with the stability of the criminal justice system.”
Firms across the county are now deciding whether to take on any new legal aid funded cases after July 1st.
Also on the agenda for discussion was a speech made by the Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, on Tuesday this week. In that speech, Mr Gove described the UK as having a “two tier” legal system, where well off individuals and businesses received the “gold standard” of British justice, but where everyone else had to put up with a “creaking and outdated” system. He also called on top earning law firms to devote more time and staff to offering pro bono (without fee) legal services.
This suggestion was greeted with surprise by many lawyers, who pointed out that the legal aid budget cut significantly under the coalition government. The largest law firms also pointed out that most of their lawyers had expertise in other areas of law, not in Criminal Law or Family Matters, areas where the lack of adequate legal representation was the most acute.
Attending yesterday’s meeting at the Liverpool Law Society was Peter Mitchell, one of the partners at Canter Levin & Berg and a solicitor in our Motoring and Criminal Law department. Afterwards, Pete explained why he and his colleagues would be joining other lawyers from across Merseyside in refusing to take on legal aid work.
“Michael Gove recently indicated that solicitors would have a further 8.75% cut to their fees the second such cut in the last 12 months on top of 20 years without any fee increases. Mr Gove chose not to make mention of these further cuts in his speech this week. Nor did he mention that his predecessor, Chris Grayling, had promised no further cuts until the introduction of two tier contracts.
My colleagues and I at Canter Levin & Berg agree with the vast majority of solicitors across the country that these cuts, in addition to being untenable, will lead to business closures or force firms to pull out of the criminal legal aid market. This would threaten the right of defendants to quality legal representation. They would also have a huge impact on victims of crime and would slow down the whole criminal justice system through delays and lack of experienced practitioners.
Unfortunately we are at the last line in our wish to preserve access to justice and the running of a viable court system. We therefore will be standing alongside other members of the legal profession here on Merseyside on the 1st of July to try and get the government to reconsider the folly of their current policy.”