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A report into the state of legal aid reveals a system in crisis, bogged down by delays and inadequate advice, according to documents leaked to The Lawyer.
The report, ordered by the Legal Services Commission (LSC) and the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA), shows that during 2003 clients in almost 500 publicly funded cases were poorly advised while 160 cases suffered delays.
In a survey of 326 solicitors Frontier Economics, which conducted the report on behalf of the LSC and the DCA, also concludes that over the past year there appeared to be an insufficient number of barristers to cope with the growing publicly-funded case load.
Counsel also declined taking on cases because they are underpaid. Solicitors were unable to find barristers willing to represent clients in no less than 1,150 criminal, family and civil legally aided cases.
The report concludes that it was harder in 2003 to instruct the right counsel than previous years. It added: "This deterioration could imply that [there] is unlikely to be a reduction in the number of occasions in which solicitors are unable to secure a barrister of appropriate expertise and experience."