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On Wednesday 10th June, the Ministry of Justice released a statement outlining the next phase of cuts to the criminal legal aid budget, including further cuts to solicitors’ fees.
In the statement, Shailesh Vara MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Courts and Legal Aid announced additional cuts of 8.75% to the amount paid to litigators in legal aid cases, as well as a reduction in advocacy fees of £10 million per year. This further cut means that over the past 2 years, legal aid solicitors representing people accused of crimes have seen their fees cut in total by 17.5%.
Mr Vara also re-affirmed that the government intends to press ahead with its new duty solicitor contracts, which had been put out for tender before the general election. The introduction of these new contracts, which are due to begin on 11 January 2016, will see a reduction in the number of law firms providing 24-hour cover at police stations from 1,600 to 527.
The continuing cuts have been met with criticism from organisations representing solicitors and other members of the legal profession. In a joint message posted on their websites last night, Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association chairman Bill Waddington and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association president Jonathan Black said the profession 'must stand up and fight for justice or it and we will be swept away’.
These groups, which represent thousands of Criminal Law Solicitors, announced that they will be holding a ballot to decide whether their members should ‘refuse to work at the derisory rates as no one can properly discharge their professional obligations at those levels’. An invitation was also extended to criminal law barristers to ‘renew their fight following their overwhelming vote in favour of action recently’ and take part in the ballot.
Here at Canter Levin & Berg, our Criminal Law Solicitors provide legal representation to people who have been accused of a criminal offence. Our solicitors have been active both on Merseyside and at a national level in their opposition to the government’s continuing policy of cutting the legal aid budget, joining their colleagues from other firms in warning that these cuts will adversely affect some of the most vulnerable people in society.
In his reaction to this latest statement from the MoJ, Richard Hughes, one of our specialist criminal law solicitors said:
“As a Solicitor representing people going through the criminal justice process, I’m very concerned these further cuts will further hinder the ability of the most vulnerable members of society to get access to justice.
I am also disappointed that the Government has only given firms a 24-hour window to comment on effect of first raft of cuts, and the massive market disruption that is likely when duty contracts are awarded later this year.”