Fresh talks in legal aid dispute

Groups representing solicitors have held talks with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in a bid to find a solution to the legal aid dispute.

Representatives of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA), the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) and the Big Firms Group (BFG) – an alliance of around 30 large criminal legal aid firms – met officials from the MoJ and the Legal Aid Agency on 3 August. An observer from the Criminal Bar Association also attended.

A statement from the solicitors’ groups after the 90-minute meeting said: “The practitioner representatives made it clear that the profession could not sustain remuneration at the rate imposed on 1st July 2015.

“It has been agreed that there will be further talks over the next week to ten days involving the CLSA, LCCSA and BFG to find ways of resolving the current situation. This will involve providing alternative savings to the government. The representatives will not be submitting proposals that amount to a further cut in rates.”

Solicitors have refused to take on new legal aid work since 1 July in protest over an 8.75 per cent cut to their fees, following a similar cut last year, although they have now limited the action to Crown Court cases.

Members of the CBA are supporting the action by refusing to accept new work and adopting a no returns policy. Following a meeting on 27 July, the CBA said it would continue to work closely with solicitors and listen to its members, who were making “considerable personal sacrifices”.

It added: “We seek to maintain a high quality criminal justice system in which excellent public service is delivered by committed solicitors and a vibrant independent bar.”

The impact of the legal aid cuts has turned the spotlight on new approaches to tackling challenges facing the profession. In June, the Inner Temple hosted a seminar for more than 70 bar professionals, organised by Legal Cost Finance, which specialises in payment plans for the legal sector.

The firm says that the option of paying for legal costs by small instalments over extended periods ensures that “existing clients can afford to pay their legal fees on time, but also helps secure new clients by offering a sensible approach to the payment of legal costs”.

Sarah Forshaw QC, a former leader of the South Eastern Circuit, who chaired the seminar, described the approach as having “enormous potential”, adding: “If the state refuses to fund equal access to justice then there must be something we, the legal profession, can do to mitigate the problem.”

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Posted in Barristers.