Lawyers have reacted angrily to the latest proposals for reform of the legal-aid system, that could see criminal work being put out to tender to the lowest bidders, reports the BBC.
Legal-aid reform is never far from the news agenda these days and there it seems likely to stay after Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced that he will begin a consultation next month on proposals to put criminal legal-aid work out to tender to the lowest bidder.
At present the Government legal-aid budget stands at around £2bn annually. Proposals coming into force at the beginning of April will see around £350m taken off that bill, as legal aid is denied to those in employment, clinical negligence and most divorce cases.
The reforms are already highly controversial, as Britain’s poorest will be forced to borrow money to pay for a lawyer, seek out no-win no-fee representation, look to the overworked charity sector, or face the courts alone.
The latest changes would see criminal work put out to competitive tender in a bid to lower the cost.
A leading criminal lawyer based in Cardiff, Andrew Taylor, told the BBC that the proposals would favour the big firms, who use inexperienced lawyers that they can afford to pay less, allowing them to keep their costs for legal-aid work to a bare minimum.
Although accepting this would lower the cost of legal aid, Mr Taylor highlights that it will deny the poorest people access to the best lawyers, effectively denying them access to justice.
“They’re not lawyers, they don’t have experience,” he said of the lawyers used by large firms on legal-aid cases.
He went on to say that lawyers and judges who work ‘at the coalface’ could see the system going ‘dramatically wrong’ and warned that strike action was not out of the question.
“If we do go on strike, we won’t be going on strike for a pay rise… we will be going on strike and taking industrial action to safeguard the rights of the individual,” he added.
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