Today the Law Society has responded to the Ministry of Justice’s latest consultation on the way criminal legal aid is delivered. The Society has expressed grave concerns over the Government’s proposals.
The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has set out plans to change the system of allocating duty contracts to criminal solicitors and firms providing round the clock cover in police stations and magistrates courts. Two reports were commissioned to support the Government proposals, by Otterburn LLP and KPMG.
Responding today to an MoJ consultation about the findings of the two reports, Law Society President Andrew Caplen said:
“In our view the proposed scheme fails to meet the Ministry’s own objectives of ensuring that any future criminal legal aid scheme must be sustainable with sufficient numbers of solicitors doing criminal duty work. The scheme could bankrupt solicitors’ businesses, leaving areas of the country with no legal representation for anyone accused of a crime and depriving vulnerable members of the public from access to justice.
Commenting on the wealth of evidence that shows the cuts pose very serious challenges for the sustainability of access to justice across England and Wales, Andrew Caplen said: “Given the negative conclusions reached in both the KPMG financial modelling report and the PA Consulting report, together with the failure to date to address the numerous problems identified with the model for criminal legal aid contracts, the Society believes that the proposals are severely flawed.”
Caplen said: “The scope of the current consultation is extremely narrow, seeking views only on the two previously published reports and on the number of duty contracts to be allocated.”
The Law Society is calling on the MoJ to consult on a previously unpublished report by PA Consulting. The draft report is a new piece of evidence that emerged during a recent judicial review of the MoJ’s proposed criminal legal aid changes. The report was made available to the MoJ more than a year ago. PA Consulting argued that the evidence that economies of scale would be available in this market, which formed the primary rationale for the MoJ’s proposals published shortly thereafter, was doubtful. They concluded that large firms will be less able than small firms to absorb the fee cuts, and that only a quarter of existing firms would remain profitable after the fee cuts.
Andrew Caplen said: “Given the relevance of the report by PA Consulting to any consideration of the viability of the proposed model we believe it is essential that this report should also be consulted on.”
“In our opinion, no duty solicitor provider scheme can be implemented unless and until the MoJ can demonstrate reliably that it meets the MoJ’s own criteria: that any scheme will be sustainable. If it presses ahead as planned, the MoJ could be in danger of breaching its duty to ensure that all those accused of a crime will have access to a duty solicitor.”
The Law Society is calling on the MoJ to release a number of further key documents, the disclosure of which it considers is essential to a meaningful response to this consultation.
Andrew Caplen said: “We hope that the MoJ will provide this information and we will make additional submissions once a response is forthcoming.”
Commenting on the consequences for criminal justice, Andrew Caplen said the Law Society is extremely concerned about the scale of risk to the future availability of criminal defence services and access to justice - including for vulnerable people - if the Government proceeds with the current scheme.”