Law Society calls on members to engage with Government over legal aid

The Law Society has defended its position over legal aid cuts as the wrangling over Government reductions to legal aid funding continues.

In an open letter sent to solicitors today, chief executive Des Hudson urged criminal lawyers to participate in the joint survey being run by the Law Society and the MoJ, saying the Government needs evidence from practitioners to help make decisions.

Hudson responded to criticism over the society’s stance on legal aid, saying that engagement with the MoJ was more effective than simple opposition.

”The Law Society has given a lot of consideration to the strategy that we should adopt. Many of our members would have preferred us to take a much more oppositional stance, refusing to engage, standing firm, just saying no, and supporting direct action. We understand that viewpoint, and did not dismiss it lightly.

“It is important to remember that the Ministry is free to set the both strategic direction and the detailed arrangements for criminal legal aid and the procurement of criminal law services, subject to the law and any substantive political challenge. Assessments of the bargaining power of the profession must be set in that context – as the MoJ does not require our agreement,” he wrote.

The Law Society also published its response to the second consultation in the legal aid cuts saga, which began on 5 September. In the response, it sets out its opposition to proposed fee cuts and suggests either a staged reduction in fees, or a delay until spring 2015.

Hudson said it was “vital” for criminal lawyers to take part in the survey, being run by Otterburn Consulting, which he said would strengthen the society’s arguments for further refinements to the proposals.

He concluded: “The concerns being clearly expressed by the profession have been a necessary backdrop to making the progress that has been made to date, but it is engagement that has secured the changes. The combination of that backdrop and our engagement has achieved the restoration of client choice, the removal of price tendering, and the right of any firm meeting the standards to have an own client contract.

“What remains still leaves practitioners facing an incredibly tough future. I wouldn’t wish to offer false hopes as to what further changes might be won, but we will continue seeking improvements in the proposals on your behalf.”