The Court of Appeal has today handed down a judgment which could result in vulnerable members of the public being denied access to legal representation when they are accused of wrongdoing.
In a deeply disappointing judgment the Court of Appeal rejected legal challenges brought by the Law Society and the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association (CLSA) and London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association (LCCSA) over government plans to reduce the number of criminal legal aid contracts.
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.
'Without proper legal representation there may be miscarriages of justice. Criminal legal aid solicitors are critical for ensuring that anyone accused of a crime has a fair trial.'
The Law Society of England and Wales believes that government proposed cuts in the number of contracts for solicitor firms covering criminal legal aid is unsustainable and could leave some parts of the country without solicitors to provide essential services.
After twenty years without any increases in legal aid fees the government introduced cuts of 8.75 per cent in March last year.
A further 8.75 per cent cut in the fees paid is planned for solicitors working in police stations and magistrates' courts. The Law Society awaits the outcome of the government's promised review of the impact of last March's cuts and will robustly oppose a further 8.75 per cent cut.
Andrew Caplen added:
'We are now considering our position and we will be looking to have early discussions with the new government on how to ensure access to justice for the most vulnerable in society.
'We will do all we can to support solicitors as they decide on their responses to the government's criminal legal aid contract tender process and we will continue to fight for access to justice using every means available.'
Commenting on today's ruling Jonathan Black, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association said:
'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.
'It's vital that legal aid becomes an election issue. We can't stress enough that additional cuts in an already stretched system aren't necessary and we urge the public to demand a re-think. As for our own legal position, we're taking stock and considering our next steps. We have incredible support from the profession and justice campaigners and we have contingency plans. Watch this space.'
Notes to editors
The Law Society of England and Wales is the independent professional body, established for solicitors in 1825, that works globally to support and represent its members, promoting the highest professional standards and the rule of law.
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