Solicitor attacks duty rota reforms

SUSSEX criminal lawyer Alexander McCulloch has attacked as 'monopolistic' and 'anti-competitive' the recent changes to the duty solicitor scheme, which he claims prevent him from practising law in the area he chooses.

The controversy surrounds 'reverse linking', by which a solicitor can only do police station work if he or she is eligible for work as a magistrates' court duty solicitor in the same area.

The effect of the policy is that solicitors wanting to go onto the police station duty rota must live within the boundaries of the court's jurisdiction while previously they only had to live or work within 45 minutes travelling distance from the station.

McCulloch, a sole practitioner from Haywards Heath, held a meeting with 30 other local practitioners last week to discuss the policy, which he says will cut by more than half the number of solicitors giving police station advice in his area.

He claims that as the work is spread between fewer firms, the use of non-legally qualified 'authorised representatives' to do police work will increase.

Regional duty solicitor committees were given discretionary powers to reverse link in June last year by the Lord Chancellor's Department.

National duty solicitor co-ordinator, Simon Hillyard, said that regional committees must comply with criteria that do not allow any deterioration of the service to the public. He disagreed that the use of authorised representatives would increase as solicitors were still required to advise the client initially.