Proposed legal aid system 'won't compete on quality'

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A former Court of Appeal judge has challenged the government's proposed changes to legal aid in England and Wales.

Sir Anthony Hooper, who retired last year, said the plans - intended to save £200m a year - risked destroying a system of fair justice that was the envy of the world.

The government insists the new system will be fair and affordable.

But Sir Anthony criticised the idea to stop allowing defendants to choose their own legal aid solicitors.

He told the Today programme that "If I'm arrested in Norwich on a complex fraud case, for example, I would be able under the present system to find maybe a solicitors in London or Manchester, or wherever it may be, who specialise in difficult fraud cases.

"Not now. Someone will turn up at the door and say 'I'm representing you. And by the way, I'm employed by the following company'."

But Tory MP and barrister Bob Neill, a former member of the Justice Select Committee, said the justice system could not be "exempt from the need to reduce expenditure".

He told Today: "Everyone will still have access to a solicitor and to a quality solicitor. I'm afraid it's a little bit snobbish of Sir Anthony to talk about corporate providers and so on, at the end of the day everybody who comes through that system will have to pass a quality mark."

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday 4 June 2013.

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