BSB and Bar Council slam MoJ over legal aid reforms

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has slammed Ministry of Justice (MoJ) plans to overhaul how legal aid lawyers are paid, claiming it could lead to a miscarriage of justice.

Chris Grayling
Chris Grayling

The bar regulator said that setting the same fee for a guilty and not guilty plea could see lawyers develop a vested interest in client’s pleading guilty because these cases can often be arranged in minutes.

Chair of the BSB’s quality assurance committee, Sam Stein QC, said: “If we put in place financial incentives that could lead to some advocates telling clients to plead guilty when they’re not, this will do irreparable damage not only to people’s lives but to a justice system that has been world-renowned for centuries.”

Meanwhile the Bar Council has today (4 June) published its full response to the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) controversial consultation paper,  Transforming Legal Aid.

The 150-page response opposes the removal of client choice from the criminal legal aid system and the “fundamentally flawed” introduction of price competitive tendering (PCT). It argues that the proposals obliterate client choice in PCT contracts and will destroy the livelihoods of many smaller solicitors firms.

The Bar Council also commissioned economic analysis, conducted by the University of York, which found that the MoJ’s thinking is “muddled” and that it has “failed to consider hard evidence.”

Chairman of the Bar Maura McGowan QC said: “There is no avoiding the simple fact that these proposals would move us from having a justice system which is admired all over the world, to a system where price trumps all.  PCT may look as though it achieves short-term savings, but it is a blunt instrument that will leave deep scars on our justice system for far longer.

“Further cuts to the scope of civil legal aid will limit access to justice for some of the most vulnerable. That is a legacy of which no Government should be proud.”

The Bar Council is promoting a petition against the reforms in partnership with the campaign group 38 Degrees. It currently has more than 43,000 signatures.

However justice secretary Chris Grayling today accused lawyers of making “over the top” claims about legal aid cuts, reportedly warning that spending on criminal cases must drop to protect NHS budgets.

The Bar Council’s full consultation will be published later today (4 June).