Devon

Exeter lawyer's anti-legal aid tendering petition signed by 24,000

Jeremy Tricks
Image caption Jeremy Tricks said clients could feel pressurised to plead guilty because of the legal aid changes

A petition against proposed changes to criminal legal aid set up by an Exeter-based solicitor has attracted more than 24,000 signatures.

The government wants to save £220m by introducing competitive tendering, with firms bidding against one another to provide work at a fixed fee.

Solicitor Jeremy Tricks said it could mean clients being or feeling pressurised to plead guilty.

The Ministry of Justice said it was trying to deliver value for money.

'Catastrophic' proposals

Legal aid for criminal cases in England and Wales costs more than £1bn a year.

A consultation is under way into lawyers competing for legal aid contracts, as the government would like to see fewer contracts with legal aid providers.

The Law Society, representing solicitors in England and Wales, said that could be "catastrophic".

It added it was concerned the proposed changes meant clients would have no choice as to who represented them.

Mr Tricks, a partner in Jacobs & Tricks Solicitors, added he was concerned people accused of crimes could suffer rough justice.

He said: "It's one fee, in effect: one fee whether you are going to plead guilty at a first date, or after several hearings, or at a trial.

"Clients could be pressurised to plead guilty.

"In the event the case goes to the crown court, barristers are facing the same situation."

If approved, tendering for contracts would begin in the autumn and the first contracts would be in place in autumn 2014.

The Ministry of Justice said quality-assured duty lawyers would still be available, but it was intent on delivering better value for taxpayers' money.

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