A written ministerial statement announced yesterday that plans to slash the number of law firms allowed to do criminal legal aid work have been dropped.
The proposed cuts would have meant a major reduction in the number of solicitors' firms awarded ‘duty contracts.’ Firms that hold these contracts are called on to represent people who qualify for legal aid. This includes people under the age of 18, on income support, or with a gross annual income of under £22,325 a year. Firms are placed on a rota to provide that representation and are paid legal aid fees for their time.
As of June 2015, there were over 1,600 such firms around the country; government plans were to reduce this number to 527.
These received widespread opposition from both solicitors and barristers. The Ministry of Justice faced 99 separate legal challenges over the proposals. In a written statement, Michael Gove said that there were “real problems” in pressing ahead with the proposals, and the policy has now been ditched.
“My decision is driven in part by the recognition that the litigation will be time-consuming and costly for all parties, whatever the outcome.
“I do not want my department and the legal aid market to face months if not years of continuing uncertainty, and expensive litigation, while it is heard.”
He also said:
“By not pressing ahead with dual contracting, and suspending the fee cut, at this stage we will, I hope, make it easier in all circumstances for litigators to instruct the best advocates, enhancing the quality of representation in our courts.”
To find out more about legal aid entitlements, read our previous blog post here.
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