Clara Molden for The Times
Solicitor chiefs are to challenge government cuts to legal aid criminal defence fees in the High Court, it was revealed yesterday evening.
The Law Society said that “concerns over the sustainability of the fragile criminal legal aid sector in England and Wales” had forced it to go to court for a judicial review of the Ministry of Justice’s proposals.
Ministers plan to impose a system under which payments will be slashed for so-called paper-heavy crown court cases. The Ministry of Justice argues that more pages of evidence are being served by the Crown Prosecution Service, and that average costs per case are increasing.
But the society – which represents solicitors in England and Wales – counters that in reality rates for less complex cases in the crown courts “are now so low that firms doing this work have been making a loss”. The society claims that solicitors are routinely cross-subsidising some criminal work with funding from bigger cases so that they can represent vulnerable defendants.
“This fragile criminal legal aid market cannot stand any further cuts,” Christina Blacklaws, the society’s vice-president, said. “Any more will put access to justice in this country under even greater threat.”
Blacklaws said the society had no option but to seek judicial review of the plans. “The relatively minor savings that might be obtained from these ill-advised cuts do not warrant the substantial damage they could cause,” she argued, describing the cuts as “a quick-fix, money-saving solution. They are untenable, highly counterproductive and short-sighted”.