The Ministry of Justice has announced a second round of cuts to crime specialist law firms, taking total to more than 17% in last year
A government minister yesterday effectively spoke directly to anyone still thinking of becoming a legal aid solicitor. His message can be boiled down to a simple utterance: don’t.
In a written statement to parliament, the legal aid minister at the Ministry of Justice, Shailesh Vara, told MPs that the now true-blue government would press ahead with a second round of fee cuts for criminal law legal aid solicitors’ firms.
The second slice of 8.75% — scheduled to kick in from the beginning of next month – comes on top of the same percentage cut imposed last year by the previous coalition government.
Anyone standing on the sidelines could easily take the view that ministers for some reason just don’t like the solicitor branch of the profession — or at least those solicitors that don’t do advocacy work.
Vara told MPs that the MoJ was backing away — at least temporarily — from proposed cuts to advocacy fees. That move will mostly benefit criminal law specialist barristers, and can arguably be viewed as a ministry bid to head off rumblings of criminal bar strike action.
We are particularly keen to ensure we retain a vibrant independent bar,” Vara said, “and protect the high standard of advocacy which is a hallmark of our justice system.
Therefore, in the last 12 months legal aid solicitors’ firms have borne the brunt of two successive governments’ slash-and-burn efforts, making a total of 17.5% in cuts.
In his statement to MPs, Vara said:
Before reaching this conclusion, we examined changes to our forecast legal aid expenditure, changes to the existing market, provider withdrawal rates and reasons, contract extension acceptance and early information from the duty provider contract tender. This reassured us that legal aid reforms so far have not had any substantial negative impact on the sustainability of the service.
Funnily enough, legal aid solicitors on the ground did not agree. Jonathan Black, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association and a founding partner of BSB Solicitors, told the Law Gazette that the government’s fee cuts amounted to sailing “straight into an iceberg leading to the sinking of a profession”.
We understand that the advocates fee cut has not been affected and that [the minister] was persuaded that savings could be made elsewhere. This was to maintain the quality of advocacy services. It is disappointing that he would not consider the same argument in respect of litigation services, the provision of which will be further impacted as a result of this cut.