Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Criminal fee cuts announced

Cuts in fees for criminal legal aid have been announced by the government. Details of the cuts were given by legal aid minister Lord Bach in a written ministerial statement to parliament at 12 noon today. The cuts follow the proposals outlined in the August 2009 paper, Legal aid: funding reforms. The main proposals are:

- Fees for police station work will be cut back in the areas the government describes as 'the most expensive and over-subscribed'. LAG understands that this could hit up to 160 areas.
- One fixed fee will be paid for committal hearings.
- The fee for file reviews in criminal cases will end.

An announcement on the reduction in experts' fees, which had also been proposed, will be made in January. The government will also launch a second consultation on reducing Crown Court fees. The government estimates that £23m will be made in savings from the cuts announced today over the next year.

LAG knows that these cuts will hit some hard-pressed firms, especially in London, where the cost of undertaking police station cover can be higher due to delays and the diverse range of clients who need advice. In some respects, though, this could be seen as the least worst option if the cash saved can be used to prop up the civil legal aid budget which is creaking under the strain of increased demand caused by the recession.

LAG is being told by legal aid lawyers that the Legal Services Commission has run out of money for civil cases. For £23m, 115,000 more clients in debt or 132,000 more clients with housing problems could be seen. LAG will be seeking assurances that this money will not disappear back into the Treasury's coffers, but will be used to help people cope with the effects of the recession.

1 comment:

Wiltshire solicitor said...

If rates continue to be cut [and given the appalling state of the nation's finances, this looks to be a certainty] the inevitable outcome will be less and less Solicitors offering legal aid. Even putting rates up in the future [which is hardly likely to happen] would not remedy the situation. Experience shows that once law firms have left publicly funded work, they don't come back -- usually because they're either downsized or found genuinely profitable work instead.