The Law Society on a war footing to defend access to justice

The Law Society on a war footing to defend access to justice

Chancery Lane will announce its intention to issue proceedings for a judicial review of the government’s decision to further deepen cuts to the legal aid budget. Criminal defence practitioners face being driven to the wall by a reduction in payment made from the legal aid fund for cases involving large volumes of paperwork.

As part of reforms introduced in 2011, payments to defence solicitors for cases were changed from hourly rates, to payments made on the basis of the number of pages of prosecution evidence (“PPE”) along with other proxies. It meant that for cases running into more than 10,000 pages, there was no need for solicitors to demonstrate the number of hours spent preparing the case for trial but instead, payment was made in accordance with a table, depending on the nature and seriousness of the case and PPE. Any excess over 10,000 has to be claimed for on an hourly basis and that is generally at a lower rate from the point of view of defence solicitors.

In February 2017, the Ministry of Justice opened a consultation proposing a “a change to the Litigators’ Graduated Fee Scheme in advance of a new scheme being introduced, which would reduce the number of pages of prosecution evidence used to calculate the graduated fee from 10,000 to 6,000, with the additional pages being remunerated at hourly rates”.

On the 24th October 2017, the government issued its response to the overwhelmingly negative response from the profession. The decision of the government was to press ahead with the proposed cut, widely seen as meaning a further and deeper cut to the potential income of solicitors’ firms whose margins have already been largely eroded by other previous cuts.

The Law Society has now obtained favourable opinion from counsel and preparations are ongoing at Chancery Lane to instruct a firm of solicitors and Queens Counsel to issue a protocol letter before claim.

The Black Solicitors Network welcomes the decision of the Law Society as it seeks to defend the precarious position of many of our members who practice in publicly funded work and toil to service the needs of the communities we serve.

Watch this space.

J Mensah-Dankwah (BSN Director)