Legal aid cuts criticised by Treasury Counsel and Bar Council

Protesters against legal aid cuts outside Westminster The planned cuts have attracted a series of protests

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Government plans to cut legal aid in criminal cases have been criticised by an elite group of barristers used by it to prosecute the most serious crimes.

Treasury Counsel, appointed by the attorney general, said the cuts - £220m from a yearly budget of £1bn for criminal cases - were unsustainable.

The Bar Council and the Law Society also criticised the plans.

But the Ministry of Justice said savings were needed to ensure the system could help those most in need.

A final consultation on proposed cuts to legal aid in criminal work in England and Wales closed on Saturday.

Legal aid costs taxpayers about £2bn every year - half goes on criminal defence and the rest on civil cases including mental health, asylum and family law involving domestic violence, forced marriage or child abduction.

'Cuts before justice'

Government proposals include cutting fees in complex, high cost cases by 30%, and in other crown court work by up to 18%.

Treasury Counsel said the "entirely obvious and predictable outcomes will be lost quality and reduced supply of criminal advocates".

Meanwhile, the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, accused the government of putting "cuts before justice".

Maura McGowan QC, chairwoman of the Bar, told BBC Radio 5 live there was clear evidence that standards were at risk.

"The fees that are paid to people who do these cases have been reduced by almost as much as 40% already, before the planned reductions," she said.

"It will drive people of quality out of the system and will mean those who depend on publicly funded representation run the risk of getting a lower standard.

"So to say that they're making these cuts because they want to protect those who most need help, cannot be right."

'Maintain quality'

The Law Society, which represents some 130,000 solicitors in England and Wales, said it had some concerns about proposals for flat fees in magistrates' courts and the crown court and a single national fixed fee for police station work.

Law Society President Nicholas Fluck said: "To maintain quality, it is vital that we have the most diverse range of solicitors possible in the system within the boundaries of long-term financial viability.

"The current proposals for a single national fixed fee for police station work will have a disproportionate effect on firms in high-cost areas where the cost of doing business is greater.

"It is unwise to risk tarnishing the respect in which our justice system both domestically and internationally is held by an apparent incentive to plead guilty, which could jeopardise the relationship of trust between clients and solicitors."

The MoJ said the cut in high cost cases was to ensure it would impact high earners and not junior barristers, and denied other cuts were unjust.

'Generous' system

An MoJ spokeswoman said: "We have tried to ensure our proposals have more impact on high earners - 70% of criminal barristers contracted to Very High Cost Cases receive fee incomes of over £100,000, which is why we targeted the largest fee reductions at this type of work.

"Nor do we accept our proposed rates for more routine work are unjust. The minimum a QC would be paid for such a case is £306 each day.

"At around £2 billion a year we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world and even after our changes would still have one of the most generous.

"We agree legal aid is a vital part of our justice system and that's why we have to find efficiencies to ensure it remains sustainable and available to those most in need of a lawyer.

"We have engaged constructively and consistently with lawyers - including revising our proposals in response to their comments - and to allege we have not is re-writing history."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    the only real benefits of the legal aid system are to the vastly overpaid barristers and solicitors and to the high profile defendants...for normal individuals the legal aid system is a snare and a delusion..the uk legal and justice systems are one BIG FRAUD...

  • Comment number 479.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    The legal aid system has evolved into a self-serving industry for the lawyers who administer it and grow rich at the expense of the great British taxpayer. Reform is well overdue...time to end the!

  • Comment number 477.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.


    " You get the justice you can afford....a QC and £250/hour for a solicitor....


    A cheap, nasty and profoundly ignorant posting. Over 99% of cases will never need a QC. Most High Street Solicitors charge nowhere near £250 and are moving towards fixed fees in any event.

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    Were already heading into a society where you can't complain about poor service or unfair treatment, now theres no money to fight your cause.....its all a bit sick

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    The thing that gets my goat is that I have worked all my life and stayed out of trouble and if I needed to use a system that I have helped fund it will not be there for me.
    Yet if I was a yob or chav that has never worked and could not be bovered at skool to learn anything because it's not cool or if I was a illegal immigrant that came to feed off our society it would all be thrown at me F.O.C

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    My concern is that if people are denied a proper defence because they can’t afford one and the state will not provide one, this could lead to more Miscarriages of justice which could blight people lives for years and in the end come back on appeals years later and cost the tax payer a fortune in damages.

    Or are we to become a country where only the rich can get Justice?

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    470. Cosmologic
    Can anyone name me one section of society that is not beholden to the legal profession?

    No wonder they can charge what they want
    Dramatic ignorance!
    perhaps not legal aid, perhaps it is?
    what is your view?

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    No legal aid = more convictios = more residents for private prisons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    Can anyone name me one section of society that is not beholden to the legal profession?

    No wonder they can charge what they want
    Dramatic ignorance!

    Legal aid rates are set by the Government - It's a fixed fee, and NOT by the hour.

    Barristers do NOT get paid for the time they spend with the client, reading all the papers, and many, many hours preparing for trials.

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    Most people need not worry as they don't routinely get drunk & attack unsuspecting victims most weeks and also cause the huge 'Night time economy' problems (and also bring A&E to its knees)

    The main problem is the 1% who commit 99% of crime who ensure the legal profession will never stop playing golf...courtesy of the tax payer

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    I have seen several comments about lawyersd abusing the system by spending more time on cases than necessary. This is completely and utterly false. Almost all criminal legal aid is paid on a fixed fee. It doesn't matter how long you spend. In fact the 'incentive' if anything would be to spend as little time as possible on each matter. However the reality is that committed lawyers do not do that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    Scary. I have autism and mental health problems and used legal aid when neighbours were bullying me and set me up as having broken their car window. It was stressful enough with legal aid; without I don't know if I'd have survived. I'd certainly not survive the prison system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    So, if the lawyers are the ones protesting at the cuts to legal aid it must be a good thing.

    When Joe public who actually pays for this from his taxes is not protesting, then we know it must be a good thing.

    Time cast off our link with the court of human rights as well and bring some sense of sanity back to our country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    463. Rhona
    I am not a legal professional, but let's cut out the hysteria.
    Can you tell me when the the last competition commission's inquiry into legal fees was?

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    From a Juriscomic cartoon -

    "How much justice can you afford?"

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    I am not a legal professional, but let's cut out the hysteria. The majority of us will have no recourse to the law and at the end of the day we need to take a realistic view of what can be achieved by this path- ending the "all or nothing " approach that invariably leads to protracted proceedings. Crime is already dealt with by fixed fees, so prospective litigants will have to shop around

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    Without an accessible justice system, society is likely to break down eventually, when injustices reaches such a proportion that normal life becomes impossible: Look at areas of the country where the Police are 'soft' on various crimes. Lax law enforcement become a self-fufilling task, no need for aid where there is no law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    Money should have NOTHING to do with justice.


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