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Law Society accused of ‘abject surrender’ on criminal legal aid

Parry has signatures he needs to call extraordinary general meeting

28 October 2013

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The Law Society has been accused of "active appeasement and abject surrender" over criminal legal aid.

James Parry, who last week obtained the 100 signatures he needs to call an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) of the society, said groups such as the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association and Criminal Bar Association had taken up a position of "wholesale opposition" to the cuts.

More than 300 firms have signed a pledge being circulated by the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association, warning that solicitors could not fulfil their professional duties should the 17.5 per cent fee cut go ahead.

In open letter to Law Society chief executive Des Hudson, Parry called on the society to withdraw from its agreement with the Lord Chancellor.

He said the majority of criminal legal aid firms, large and small, would cease to be profitable and "fail in the short to medium-term" if the cuts went ahead.

"There is reason to suppose that there are currently firms contracted to supply criminal legal aid services which are in severe financial difficulty and which are likely to fail in the short-term.

Parry said the failure of a substantial number of suppliers would "jeopardise the stability of the market and either the government will be forced to substantially increase the rates of remuneration to the survivors or abandon its Article 6 commitments to those who cannot afford to be represented in serious criminal proceedings."

Parry argued that it was unclear exactly what was agreed at the negotiations between the Law Society and justice secretary Chris Grayling, as there seemed to be "some difference of opinion" between Hudson and Grayling on the matter.

"The notes, minutes and text of the agreement you are said to have reached with Mr Grayling have not been published," Parry said to Hudson.

"In the interests of transparency I call upon you to publish those notes, minutes and emails that led to the agreement and the text of it. It would be helpful to know who signed it off on both sides and the circumstances in which it came about.

"Whatever the agreement was those of us who are expected to abide by it were not consulted about it and did not endorse it."

Parry said the aims of passing a vote of no confidence in the Law Society's leadership at the EGM would be to "establish beyond doubt" that solicitors who practice criminal law disagreed with the Lord Chancellor's proposals and "to bring the executive of the Law Society to account".

A further aim was to persuade the Law Society to engage in a "hearts and minds campaign to make the political and economic case" against the cuts. If the current incumbents were unwilling to do so, Parry said they should step aside.

He added that the "appropriate way forward" was to maintain the criminal legal aid system at the current rates and absorb the real term reduction by inflation.

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Legal Aid