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Small criminal legal aid firms to lose contracts

22 March 2010

A large number of small and medium-sized criminal legal aid firms would lose their contracts under the government’s latest and most drastic cost-cutting plans.

Richard Collins, practice director of Tuckers, said that under the new tendering plans for contracts announced by Lord Bach today, the number of criminal legal aid firms could be cut from 2,500 to only 400.

He said that firms bidding for contracts would have to deliver a much bigger volume of work, with the number of contracts offered in each criminal justice area, apart from London, falling to as few as eight to ten.

“If the government wants to deliver the service for less money, the only way is to give firms greater volumes of work and more freedom from bureaucracy,” he said. “They must focus on allowing firms to reduce their costs.”

Collins said the earliest the new system could be introduced was July 2011, if the new contracts starting in July 2010 were reduced to only one year.

“This could be the way forward regardless of the outcome of the election,” he added. “It’s very unlikely that any new justice secretary will have a larger budget for legal aid.”

Speaking to Solicitors Journal today, Lord Bach acknowledged that a “large number” of small and medium-sized firms would be affected.

“We recognise that this announcement won’t please everyone, but to make no change is just not an option,” he said. “Change is necessary to maximise value for money from legal aid and to enable firms to thrive and make a reasonable return.”

Lord Bach said the changes would make suppliers more efficient and get a better return for the taxpayer.

“Restructuring is already taking place. Some smaller firms will want to merge and gain from the experience of other firms.”

Lord Bach said that previous cuts in criminal legal aid, such as reduced rates for duty solicitors, were “small beer” compared to today’s announcement.

He said that a consultation on the new tendering system was planned for the summer.

The MoJ also published today its latest league tables of legal aid earnings. For the first time, a figure was published for the total number of barristers earning between £100,000 and £300,000 from criminal legal aid – there are 874.

Tuckers topped the table for criminal firms, earning £9,397,000 in 2008-09.

The Johnson Partnership came second with £6.37m and EBR Attridge Law third with £5.4m.

Duncan Lewis was even further ahead of the competition in the table of big civil legal aid earners. It clocked up £9,907,000, followed by Stephensons with £5.67m and Switalskis with £4.99m.

The highest earning criminal legal aid barrister was Howard Godfrey QC with £928,000, while David Southey QC topped the civil legal aid table with £442,000.

The league tables for the top-earning solicitors’ firms as are follows:

Criminal Defence Service

TUCKERS £9,397,000

THE JOHNSON PARTNERSHIP £6,366,000

EBR ATTRIDGE LAW £5,399,000

NOBLE SOLICITORS £5,056,000

FORBES SOLICITORS £4,476,000

CARTWRIGHT KING SOLICITORS £4,417,000

DAVID PHILLIPS & PARTNERS £3,880,000

MARTIN MURRAY & ASSOCIATES £3,741,000

BHATIA BEST SOLICITORS £3,615,000

STEVENS SOLICITORS £3,545,000

* In addition to the private firms listed above, the Public Defender Service (PDS) a publicly administered body providing legal advice and representation received £3,352,000 in 2008-09

Community Legal Service

DUNCAN LEWIS SOLICITORS £9,907,000

STEPHENSONS LLP £5,671,000

SWITALSKI'S £4,989,000

BLAVO & COMPANY SOLICITORS £4,433,000

HOWELLS LLP £4,349,000

FISHER MEREDITH £4,058,000

WILSON & CO £3,665,000

HODGE JONES & ALLEN SOLICITORS £2,975,000

FOOT ANSTEY £2,953,000

BURKE NIAZI SOLICITORS & ADVOCATES £2,616,000

* In addition to the firms listed above, the legal aid budget also funded services provided by the following not-for-profit organisations with charitable status during 2008-09. Contract funding to the Immigration Advisory Service of £ 14,621,000; contract funding to Refugee and Migrant Justice of £13,772,000. Law for All received £2,404,000. In addition, Dawn Advice received £2,497,000 and A4E received £2,374,000 for Community Legal Advice work.

Categorised in:

Legal Aid Discrimination Local government