Law Society warning over on-call lawyer plans

23 February, 2015

Solicitors are to challenge plans to cut the number of on-call lawyers attending courts and police stations.

The Government proposals to reduce duty contracts from 1,600 to 527 in England and Wales have led to fears of a sharp increase in miscarriages of justice.

Action brought by the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA), the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and the Law Society alleges that the way new duty solicitor contracts are being introduced is discriminatory and unfair.

The Legal Aid Agency, which operates the contracts, expects the criminal law market to undergo a process of mergers and consolidation, resulting in significant savings.

Solicitors’ firms, it maintains, will combine to enjoy economies of scale that compensate for the 17.5 per cent cuts in fees being introduced in criminal cases.

Jon Black, president of the LCCSA, disagreed. He said: “If this ‘pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap’ approach to justice is forced through in police stations and magistrates’ courts, the ramifications for justice would be appalling. High street solicitor firms will die off, replaced by massive legal warehouses dispensing tick-box justice.

“A fair defence will become a matter of luck as legal standards plummet; it will become increasingly common to see quick-fix guilty pleas which reflect the profit margins of the law factory rather than the strength of the case against the accused.

“In short, if these ‘reforms’ with their accompanying cuts go through, miscarriages of justice will once again creep back into our so-called justice system.”

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has defended the need to reduce the number of duty contracts for solicitors doing criminal work.

An MoJ spokesperson said: “These reforms are designed to help make the legal aid system more sustainable whilst ensuring anyone suspected of a crime has access to a legally aided lawyer of their choosing, just as they do now.

“We understand reform will not be easy for some lawyers. That’s why we introduced a range of measures to support them and engaged in extensive consultation and dialogue with the sector for more than two years.”

If you act as an on-call or duty solicitor at a court, police station or any other institution and are concerned about the reduction in the number of contracts and the effect it could have on you or your firm, please contact us.

Our highly-qualified legal finance team can help you ensure your accounts and budgets are robust enough to meet any changes to your work.