Bar chairman Timothy Dutton QC has warned that there is a risk of a second class system of legal aid in England due to the Legal Services Commission's (LSC) new contracts.
Dutton, addressing the European bar leaders at a conference in Vienna today (1 February) said that by creating block procurement of funding criminal cases there is a real risk of a two-tier legal system.
"Lawyers do not provide commoditised services. Each case is different, not least for the parties directly concerned," said Dutton. "Proposed changes to the funding of certain cases in England and Wales could create a second class service unless we can agree an approach which recognises that a case is not a commodity.
In a call to the LSC, Dutton said: "There is still time for the Legal Services Commission to refine its thinking, and we are urging the LSC to think carefully about how it proceeds."
Dutton's warnings and pleas to the LSC come almost two weeks after the deadline passed for the 2,300 barristers chosen to sign up to the very high cost cases (VHCC) contract.
The LSC still have not provided figures of the total number of barristers that signed up to the agreement but it is expected that hundreds have boycotted the scheme.
If, as some commentators have claimed, nine out of ten barristers have not signed up to the VHCC mainly because the rates are lower then their current pay then a strike in effect has been initiated by the bar.
During the last two weeks of wrangling feeling reached fever pitch with accusations from the LSC that the Bar Council had been obstructive in getting barristers to sign up.
A point, Dutton, flatly denies. In response to the LSC's allegations the bar chair circulated a letter where he stated that the Bar Council had left the decision to sign up to the VHCC a matter for the individual or chambers.
Since the deadline has passed, however, Dutton has become more vocal and urges the LSC to look at the contracts it is offering.