Legal Business Blogs

‘We’re gutted’: Law Society loses appeal over government’s controversial legal aid reforms

The Law Society has lost an appeal over controversial government reforms which will introduce a tendering process for 527 contracts to provide Duty Provider Work (DPW) across England and Wales.

The Lord Chancellor’s decision to introduce 527 DPW contracts is a part of the wider reforms of the legal aid system, which also includes plans to introduce fee reductions of 17.5%. The Law Society, alongside the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association contested the reforms, saying that the Government had ‘not made a proper and lawful assessment of the likely impact of his proposed reforms on the legal services market’ and the assessment is based on a number of ‘unsustainable and irrational assumptions.’

However, the challenge was initially dismissed by the High Court in February and the Court of Appeal found today that modelling of the reforms by KPMG had been ‘stress tested’ by government statisticians and that ‘it was not incumbent on [the Lord Chancellor] to investigate the current underlying facts in any greater detail than he did’.

Commenting on the decision, Law Society president Andrew Caplen said: ‘The Court of Appeal decision is a devastating blow. We remain concerned that vulnerable people may not be able to obtain legal representation if they are accused of wrongdoing. This is why we challenged government plans to reduce criminal legal aid contracts as they could affect anyone accused of a crime and the solicitors who provide high-quality legal help, including 24-hour coverage for police stations’

Jonathan Black, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association added: ‘We’re gutted. It’s another terrible blow for our criminal justice system and access to justice. Whilst the appeal court has found the devastating carve-up of solicitor representation is technically legal, we and many others believe it’s immoral. We’ll do everything we can to continue the fight.

Bindmans partner John Halford instructed Blackstone Chambers’ Dinah Rose QC, Ben Jaffey and Tristan Jones for the Law Society while Brick Court Chambers’ Martin Chamberlain QC, Temple Garden Chambers’ Nicholas Moss and 1 Chancery Lane’s Simon Murray were instructed by the Treasury Solicitor for the Lord Chancellor.