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Criminal legal aid duty contracts judicial review: Law Society statement

18 February 2015

Law Society: We will continue to fight for access to proper legal representation for anyone accused of a crime

The Law Society today announced that it would appeal a High Court decision over government changes to the way duty solicitors are provided to those accused of a crime.

The announcement follows a deeply disappointing judgment, in which the High Court rejected legal challenges brought by the Law Society and the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association.

Commenting on the ruling, Law Society president Andrew Caplen said:

'We are extremely disappointed at this outcome. We are very concerned at the government's proposals and their potential effect upon access to justice, together with the effect upon the large number of our members who have dedicated their professional lives to assisting clients in this so-important area of law.'

'Access to legal advice is a fundamental human right, the absence of which undermines our society. We consider there to be an unacceptably increased risk that those accused of crimes, some of whom are the most vulnerable in our society, will have inadequate access to legal representation. This is why we brought our challenge.'

The Law Society and the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association had argued that the government's changes would severely undermine the criminal justice system.

Andrew Caplen continued:

'If the government's plans proceed, large areas of the country could be left without legal representation, which is why we are applying for permission to appeal the decision. We will continue to campaign for an effective, publicly-funded defence system to prevent the risk of a sharp increase in miscarriages of justice.'

The Law Society has argued that the justice secretary failed to take into account or misunderstood the impact of the availability of investment and financing needed by solicitor firms and the speed of market consolidation required to meet the timetable set out by government when he decided to commence a tender process for Duty Provider Work contracts.

Commenting on the outcome, Bill Waddington, chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association and Jonathan Black, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association said:

'The result of both judicial reviews is terrible news for society and for our profession. The impact on many of our members if this tender process goes ahead will be devastating. Many firms have been considering their future in the new legal aid duty contracts market and can not see a way forward. This will be a further nail in the coffin for access to justice for vulnerable people. We are pleased that the Law Society already has plans to challenge the outcome as do both the associations.'

Read the grounds of appeal (PDF 193kb)

Ends

Notes to editors

The Law Society 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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