Save your justice system

Save your justice system. Act now!

If you are reading this, the chances are that either you or someone you know and love is in trouble. You’re possibly looking for a solicitor and looking at our website to decide whether to instruct this firm to represent you. You may be looking at it because you are unhappy with your current solicitors and are thinking about changing to us. If this is the case, make the most of your right to choose a solicitor because the government is proposing to take away your right to do so.

The government is proposing to make some massive changes to the current legal aid system; these changes will affect you and it is important that you are aware of them.

What are the new proposals?

The government is proposing to introduce price competitive tendering. In summary, what this means is:

  1. The amount of firms who supply criminal legal aid will be reduced by 75%. In Sussex, there are currently 32 criminal legal aid practices, under the new proposals, there will be 8
  2. Each firm will have to bid for a contract. Those who place the lowest bid on price per case (and satisfy the criteria) will get the contracts.
  3. If you want your case funded by legal aid, you will no longer be able to choose your solicitor. Your solicitor will be allocated to you and unless exceptional circumstances exist you will not be able to transfer your legal to another firm. Essentially, you will be stuck with the solicitor allocated to you.

Why does this matter to you?

It matters massively to you for the following reasons:

Reduction of criminal legal aid suppliers:

In Sussex the proposal is that there will be 8 firms providing criminal legal aid. It is not clear from the proposal whether those eight firms will have to have an office in each local area. Assuming they do not, on a practical level this may mean that you live in Chichester and the solicitor allocated to represent you is based in Hastings. This means that if you want to go and see your solicitors, you will have to travel approximately 66 miles. A train journey that will cost you about £14 one way.

Under the new proposals, anyone can bid for a contract (subject to satisfying the criteria). This means that companies from out of the area can bid or indeed companies with no criminal defence background can bid. For example; Tesco’s, G4S or a Manchester firm could place a bid in Sussex. You may feel that it is of fundamental importance that your case is dealt with in your local area by those who have local knowledge and crucially, by those who have specialist criminal defence knowledge and experience .

Lowest price per case:

To be successful in obtaining a criminal legal aid contract, firms will have to place the lowest possible bid on price per case. The theory is that the shortfall in costs per case will be supplemented by the increased volume; i.e pile them high, sell them cheap. Is this how you want to be represented? You may be concerned that this will affect the quality of the advice and representation that you receive.

Loss of solicitor choice:

This is possibly the most important one for you. If you want your case to be funded by legal aid you will no longer have any say in who it is that represents you. You will be allocated a solicitor and in most cases, you will not be able to change that solicitor unless you wish to instruct a new one privately. Does this matter? It matters a lot. You may have a specialist issue in your case and want a particular firm who has a good reputation in that specific area to represent you; unfortunately you won’t be able to make that choice. You may have been represented by a firm for many years and want that firm to represent you again; you will no longer have the choice of your own solicitor. This is important particularly for those vulnerable clients who have built up a relationship of trust with a certain solicitor over many years. This may be important to you as a tax payer as if that same vulnerable client is represented by a new firm, it could cause delays to the case or involve the necessity to duplicate existing medical reports for example; all at cost to the public purse. It is also important potentially to the quality of your representation. Most firms are very proud of their reputations and work very hard to grow their business and attract repeat clients or new ones via recommendation. You may be concerned that if client’s are no longer able to choose their solicitor there could be less incentive for firms to worry about their reputation as it will matter little.

What can I do about it?

If you disagree with the proposed changes to criminal legal aid there are a number of things you can do including:

  1. Sign the online e-petition here
  2. Write to your local MP
  3. Write to your local paper
If you want to find out more about what you can do and read the proposals in full please click here

Why should I bother?

You should take action now before it is too late and the changes are in. You should bother because these changes could affect you or someone you know. Some public perception is that all criminals are scumbags and so what if they are adversely effected by the changes? Is this something you agree with?  I certainly don’t and if you don’t either, you must respond.  The reality is that the criminal legal aid budget is not high on most people’s agenda and therefore public sympathy is unlikely to be high so everyone who does have sympathy for the justice system must act. After all, one day, it could be you, your mum, your brother, your wife accused of a crime they didn’t commit and you would want the best possible representation for them. I write this, not as a ‘fat cat’ lawyer worried about the impact on me. This is about the very real impact, it could have on you.

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