Solicitors welcome Gove’s legal aid retreat

8 February, 2016

Lawyers across England and Wales are celebrating following the Justice Secretary’s decision to abolish the new criminal legal aid contracting regime.

In a ministerial statement made at the end of January, the Lord Chancellor Michael Gove announced that he had decided ‘not to go ahead with the introduction of the dual contracting system’.

He also announced that from 1 April a second 8.75 per cent cut in fees, introduced in July last year, would be suspended for 12 months.

In response to the statement Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: “It is clear that a competitive approach to the provision of criminal legal aid services is not appropriate. The assurance that there will be no competitive tendering in the future gives practitioners greater certainty.”

He added that suspending the second fee cut for litigators for a further 12 months would provide firms with some assurance. Mr Gove said that his decision followed two ‘significant’ developments since last July.

First, as a result of economies made elsewhere in his department, HM Treasury had given the department a settlement which allowed for greater flexibility in the allocation of funds for legal aid.

Second, that it had become clear that “there [were] real problems in pressing ahead as proposed” due to challenges issued by various legal organisations and interested parties.

Mr Gove said: “My decision is driven in part by the recognition that the litigation will be time-consuming and costly for all parties, whatever the outcome. I do not want my department and the legal aid market to face months, if not years, of continuing uncertainty and expensive litigation while it is heard.”

It is estimated that some firms may have spent thousands of pounds already in order to prepare for the new contracts.

However, The Legal Aid Agency’s Information for Applicants document stated that the agency has the right “not to proceed to award contracts at any time at its absolute discretion”, which will be a blow to the firms that have invested money pursuing legal aid contracts.

If your firm has been affected by the changes to legal aid or this latest decision then now is the time to speak to our specialists. To find out how our team at Watson Buckle can help you and your practice, please contact us.