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One in five firms abandons criminal legal aid

1 December 2009

Almost one in five law firms pulled out of criminal legal aid in the year to March 2009, a National Audit Office report has found.

Although the report noted that an unspecified number of new firms had come into the market, it found that 28 per cent of existing firms said they were unlikely to be providing criminal legal aid in five years’ time.

The report painted an equally grim picture of earnings. Of the more than 400 firms asked what percentage profit they made from criminal legal aid in the last financial year, 16 per cent said they made nothing at all and a further 14 per cent that they made a profit of one to five per cent.

“This report goes a long way in dispelling the belief that legal aid lawyers are profiteering from the system,” Richard Miller, Law Society legal aid manager, said.

“Many of them are not even earning any income from the work they do at all. This is a picture of a supplier base on the point of crumbling into insolvency.

“It is those requiring access to justice who will lose out in the long run if there are not enough solicitors providing legal aid defence services.”

Miller said it was not only small firms that were pulling out, with large providers like Fisher Meredith and Hickman and Rose abandoning criminal legal aid in the last couple of years.

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Legal Aid Procedures