MoJ delays legal aid reforms by six months

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has pushed back the implementation of new rules governing civil and family legal aid from the originally proposed October 2012 to April 2013.

This six-month delay is, according to an MoJ statement, to allow time for the Legal Services Commission (LSC) to tender under the new rules, which are currently being debated in Parliament as part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.

Additionally, the MoJ’s consultation on introducing competition for crime work will be pushed back from late 2011 to autumn 2013.

The MoJ says that the delay in consultation was in recognition of the significant changes that providers face, both as a result of the extensive programme of reform of legal aid already under way, and wider changes including the advent of Alternative Business Structures (ABS) and the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates.

Commenting on the delays, an MoJ spokesperson said: “New contracts to provide civil and family advice will be offered to lawyers in April 2013, which will give them sufficient time to consider the final details of the new legal aid scheme which Parliament is expected to agree in spring 2012.

“Once lawyers have adjusted to the new scheme and other regulatory changes, we will consult in autumn 2013 on introducing competition for criminal defence work, with a view to extending it to civil and family work at a later date.”

7 Bedford Row criminal barrister David Farrer QC added; ” There are real concerns on the potential effects of the proposals on the future quality of advocacy and standards as the rewards of criminal justice work become unattractive and young advocates, particularly on the defense side, move away from publicly funded criminal law.

“Criminal justice work was also an important source of work for young advocates to cut their teeth on and it would be regrettable if young barristers no longer develop the expertise afforded by working on these trials”