Clause 2 - Arrangements
Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders bill
Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield, Labour)
Amendment 70 would mean that, before making changes to remuneration, the Lord Chancellor was obliged to discuss the changes with the Law Society and the General Council of the Bar. Most importantly, it would ensure that the regulations keep in mind the need to maintain a sufficient body of competent providers. Significant fee cuts, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith said, would create a climate in which legal aid work becomes the domain of the inexperienced legal professional, regardless of the complexity of the issues and the importance of the interests at stake.
All legal aid providers, both solicitors and not for profit, have a break-even point and a point where services break down. If fees for providers continue to be arbitrarily reduced, they could back out. There is already a shortage of legal aid providers in many areas, creating advice deserts that we have heard about from my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston. They may opt to continue with less supervision, less experienced and qualified staff, and drive down costs further. Legal aid work has to be of a consistently high standard equivalent to privately funded work, or else we cannot guarantee equality of justice. It cannot be ensured by using less experienced staff if they are expected to carry out complex work beyond their experience and without adequate levels of supervision and training. People with complex cases, unusual cases and cases that require a knowledge of the past, case law and a breadth of experience could very well lose out.
The amendment simply adds a requirement that the Lord Chancellor consults prior to setting remuneration and listens to those representing the front line, has a conversation about the stability of the legal aid scheme and the fact that it will apply across the board based on the proposed fees, and then makes a decision in the full knowledge of the effect that that will have on the legal aid profession.