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Legal aid consultation planned after High Court dismissal

26th Sep 2014

Following a ruling by the High Court that the consultation process on introducing legal aid cuts was ‘so unfair as to be illegal’, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced a new consultation will be set up to investigate.

It has taken just five days since the High Court ruling for the MoJ to take such action, although the announcement did not mention the court’s decision.

The High Court deemed the introduction of legal aid reform to be unlawful after it was found that the contents of two key reports from Otterburn and KPMG had not been disclosed. The case was reviewed at the request of two different groups representing criminal solicitors.

Now the MoJ has set up a new consultation entitled ‘Transforming Legal Aid: crime duty contracts’, which will consult on the Otterburn and KPMG reports and consider the number of duty contracts to be allocated to solicitors’ firms to represent criminals in court and at police stations.

The consultation will close on 15 October, a date some lawyers are unhappy with given its short time period. In the same month, a formal tender process for 2015’s duty contracts will begin.

The Law Society’s head of legal aid, Richard Miller, is pleased with the consultation in that it offers solicitors a chance to explain to ministers exactly what the reports show, but is also disappointed at the timeframe. However, he is still encouraging all members to send detailed responses, in order to try and generate real interest.

President of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA), Nicola Hill, notes that it is odd the new ‘mini-consultation’ makes no mention of ‘last week’s shaming judicial review’, and also finds the turnaround time incredibly short.

The LCCSA was one of the claimants in the judicial review, and Hill hopes that, without being too cynical, this new consultation has meaning to it. ‘We really hope it’s not a tokenistic, paper exercise’, she states, instead hoping that it will be taken as a good opportunity to have ‘a genuine rethink where the future of high standard legal representation comes before ideology’.