U-turn but legal aid row is far from over

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Controversial plans for legal aid have been watered down this week.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has backed down on plans which would have withdrawn people’s right to choose their own solicitor.

However, plans to put the legal aid contracts out to competitive tendering could still see small firms closing.

Chris Pye-Smith of Bird & Co in Castlegate, Grantham, has been campaigning against the changes.

He said: “Whilst the U-turn on choice is welcome, this is nowhere near enough to deal with the numerous serious concerns which the legal aid proposals raise.

“There remain very significant issues as to the restriction of judicial review, the “residence” test, the proposal to equalise the fees for guilty pleas and for not guilty pleas, the removal of all payment for the court duty solicitor service, further cuts to fees in family law cases and the continuing threat to introduce competitive tendering and/or to impose rate cuts of at least 17.5 per cent.

This is against a background of very significant cuts in real terms to the criminal (and civil) legal aid expenditure over the last five years or so and an overall legal aid spend that is falling already as can easily be demonstrated by the figures.

“This story is far from over and the battle lines are just beginning to be laid down.”