Legal aid: Government to implement solicitor fee cuts

Lady Justice statue
Image caption The second stage of cuts to legal aid fees for litigators will come into force on 1 July

The government is to press ahead with a cut in fees for solicitors in criminal legal aid cases, but has shelved similar plans for barristers.

The coalition government planned to reduce fees for litigators in two stages, with an 8.75% cut in 2014 and an 8.75% cut this year.

Legal aid minister Shailesh Vara said the latest cut will come into force in England and Wales on 1 July.

He said concerns had been "very carefully" listened to.

Inquiries had reassured the government that "legal aid reforms so far have not had any substantial negative impact on the sustainability of the service," he went on.

The decision to scrap cuts to advocacy fees for barristers will be offset by alternative savings in the criminal justice sector, Mr Vara said.

'Hard-pressed litigators'

The minister also said plans to bring in new contracts for duty solicitors will go ahead.

In March, lawyers lost a court appeal against the plans to cut the number of duty solicitor contracts at magistrates' courts and police stations in England and Wales from 1,600 to 527.

Andrew Caplen, president of the Law Society which represents solicitors, said he was "deeply concerned".

"The administration of justice is a fundamental duty of government and access to justice is an essential part of that responsibility," he said.

"Criminal legal aid solicitors are critical for ensuring that anyone accused of wrongdoing has a fair trial and yet few young lawyers see a future in this work, which is of extreme concern."

The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, welcomed the decision to protect advocacy fees.

But it added it had "grave concerns" about solicitors' fee cuts and the dual contracting scheme, which are "likely seriously to damage access to justice".

Criminal Bar Association chairman Tony Cross said he regretted the decisions to "impose further fee cuts on hard-pressed litigators" and to press ahead with the new duty provider contracts.

Mr Vara said: "The changes we are pressing ahead with today are designed to ensure that we have a system of criminal legal aid that delivers value for money to taxpayers, that provides high quality legal advice to those that need it most, and that puts the profession on a sustainable footing for the long term."

He said there would be a review of the cuts to fees and the new contracts in July 2016.

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