The government is pressing ahead with the bulk of Lord Carter of Coles’s proposals to reform legal aid despite widespread criticism from the legal profession, it emerged this morning (28 November).
The Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) and the Legal Services Commission (LSC) published a report into the consultation which followed Carter’s July report, and gave details of the next stage in the reforms.
Announcing the report, the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer said the reforms would “reward efficiency” and help build public confidence in the legal aid system.
“We think this is the right course for the client, for those who need legal aid,” Falconer said, speaking at a press conference.
Falconer added that he hoped the proposals would mean that there is an end to the barristers receiving £1m a year from legal aid fees.
While adjustments have been made to the timetabling of Carter’s proposals, with an extra six months given to implement many of the changes to the current legal aid regime, the main thrust of the proposals remain.
Fixed fees will be introduced for simple criminal cases; magistrates’ and crown courts cases will feature graduated fees and competitive tendering; and a panel is to be introduced for Very High Cost Criminal Cases.
However the DCA is to consult further on proposals for family legal aid lawyers, and for those working in rural areas who have called for travel and waiting time to be taken into account when calculating the fees.
Carolyn Regan, chief executive of the LSC, said the proposals would save £100m during the course of the next two years.
The DCA announcement follows weeks of opposition to the proposals from the profession. Some legal aid practitioners have threatened to strike, while 28 City firms signed a letter to Falconer criticising the Carter review.
Today Falconer said he had not yet responded to the commercial firms, but added that they “were wrong” in their analysis that many legal aid firms would be forced to close if the reforms are implemented.