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The Legal Aid Board (LAB) is considering halving the amount of duty solicitor rota work available for non-franchised criminal law firms, in a move likely to outrage criminal law solicitors.
The Lawyer understands LAB officials are actively considering plans to give firms with criminal legal aid franchises twice the space on duty solicitor rotas for police station and magistrates court work, effectively stifling a major source of clients for many firms.
A LAB spokesman said: "We will shortly be publishing proposals for consultation which will include incentives for more duty solicitors to become franchised by allocating additional slots to franchised solicitors on the duty solicitor scheme."
Almost 600 solicitors do duty solicitor work in England and Wales and only 19 per cent of firms are franchised, although these firms account for almost half the work.
Law Society criminal law committee chairman Malcolm Fowler said: "Legal aid franchising measures management and structure not quality favouring franchised firms over non-franchised firms is likely to undermine rather than enhance access to justice."
Fowler said the scheme would cause "divisiveness and confrontation", adding it could conflict with the Human Rights Act 1998 which guarantees the right to a fair trial.
The Law Society has established a working party to plan its own criminal law accreditation scheme, which will be submitted before the full council next year.