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Categories: Commercial Property, Conveyancing, Criminal Law, Family Law, General News, Legal News
Posted on: May 17, 2013 08:46
“Those amongst us who are not criminal defence practioners are not immune””These proposals will have far-reaching consequences for every aspect of High Street practice”

Jonathan Woodhouse, TVLS president, outlines what is happening and what steps you can take urgently to support the campaign to oppose the plans outlined in the Ministry of Justice consultation for the future of legal aid. These include responding to the consultation, lobbying your MP, signing the e-petition and responding   to the Law Society request for information on the effects of the proposals upon your businesses. Useful links are provided to enable you to act. He also highlights some of the consequences of these proposals. This is a clarion call to the profession. We must unite and act like never before.

Following my email publicising the meeting hosted by Simon Walker, Ian West and myself at TCCC on 24 April there was an excellent turnout of about 100 from   both sides of the profession and unanimous opposition to the MoJ plans. I have attended both the MoJ consultation and the Law Society Criminal Law Committee meetings in Newcastle last week, where again there was tremendous turnout and vocal opposition to the plans, particularly the MoJ event, where   the MoJ Legal Aid Policy Team were left in no doubt as to the strength of that opposition.

With many other Solicitors and Barristers I will be attending the “Justice for Sale” day of action in London on 22nd May (Simon Walker has hired a carriage on a Grand Central train!). This is now sold out. I am   hoping that the local and regional media will pick up on the story and give   some much needed publicity to the campaign. If you have any contacts in the   media please exploit them. Don’t expect they will have any awareness already. These proposals are stark and it is very easy to convey the message.   Especially if you mention Eddie Stobart!

I have recently met with Barry Coppinger the Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner (who expressed support for our cause) and I am arranging meetings with local   MPs. I attended the Law Society Presidents and Secretaries Conference in Chancery Lane last weekend where again there was much disquiet as to the proposals and agreement upon opposition action to be taken. This requires your help!

We must all do our bit, and now have less than 3 weeks to make a difference! Here is what you can do:

1.      Contact your MP to express your concerns. The   more they hear, the stronger the message will be. Ask your colleagues   (including non-fee earners) to do likewise: it could be their livelihood at   stake too. Ditto clients: they risk losing their choice of solicitor or   indeed firm! To click here to find your MP.
I have prepared a briefing note to summarise the proposals and their effects   which you are welcome to use.

2.      A campaigner briefing pack has been prepared by the Law   Society, which gives advice on the effect of the proposals, how to respond   and how to contact your MP.

3.      Get colleagues, clients and everyone you know to   sign the e-petition (we need 100,000) to force a debate in Parliament

4.      URGENT: By   27May please provide useful   information about your firm to Andrew Otterburn Consulting by completing and sending them the below questionnaire, so this can be statistically analysed  and the Law Society can then provide empirical evidence to the MoJ on the devastating effect of their proposals. This will carry far more weight than simply broad statements, and the more evidence they get, the clearer will be the picture. The information will be treated in the strictest confidence and the Law Society will not see individual responses or the identity of firms that take part:

5.      Respond to the consultation: Scroll down to   the online survey at the bottom of this link

The deadline is 4th June 2013, but don’t leave it until the last   minute. There are about 50 questions with “yes” and “no” answers, and space   to expand on answers if you wish. Get your staff to complete the responses as   well, the numbers of responses do count when the Ministers look at the   details and decide what to do. It can be done in writing as well. They have   to read each response and provide a summary to the Ministers.

These proposals are more far-reaching than the interests of any one practicing lawyer, firm or chambers. They strike at the heart of our judicial   system. A fundamental responsibility of any democratic government is to provide access to justice and equality before the law. Our legal system is the envy of the world. To impose a  “Stalinist” model of a fixed market in which individual choice and hence the basic driver of quality is removed,   undermines not just the government stated objective for a fairer society but also the basic rule of law.

The public have no sympathy with lawyers or criminals. That is understood. Nobody likes to think that they themselves may be subject to scrutiny before the law.  We can all come up with instances:

  • The mother doing the school run, looks back to the kids, forward again, and in an instant has killed someone.
  • Anyone driving and using a mobile phone is moments from disaster.
  • The law abiding citizen’s son who goes to a weekend music festival, comes home with a hangover, loss of a few hours memory and a charge of rape.
  • The good neighbour who goes out to remonstrate with some unruly youths causing problems on the street. The situation gets heated, push comes to shove and they then face a charge of assault.

These like countless others should be determined with the assistance of a   skilled, properly funded advocate of choice after a fair hearing. A citizen   should expect no less. But next year this will no longer be on offer.

From an economic perspective, with regard to High Street firms, the proposals   will undoubtedly lead to the closure of businesses. While the chosen few who   are given contracts will be able to continue to work, they will be forced to   work for, at best, 17.5% less fees than the current level, with no hope of   building their business. Quite simply, these proposals will lead to either   the quick death of not being awarded a contract, a slow death or at best   working with similar overheads for much smaller fees and very little profit.   Whichever way it goes, it will be very painful.

Counsel will undoubtedly be affected by the proposals, with significant cuts   across the board. Whilst crown court work is not part of the PCT, in reality those who are successful in bidding for a contract will take on more work   in-house, as a way of making profit. The effect that this will have upon the   junior Bar will be catastrophic.

Finally, those amongst us who are not criminal defence practitioners are not immune.  Crime clients are often also family clients, or prison law   clients, or mental health law clients or similar.  These proposals will   have far-reaching consequences for every aspect of High Street practice. And, who amongst us genuinely believes that the cuts will stop here? Who believes that PCT for family contracts will not be visited upon us if they are not stopped in their tracks with regard to crime?


Help your local Law Society to fight these proposals by becoming a member – click here to download an application form or contact the Administrator for more information.

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