'Uneconomical' work can be refused, criminal lawyers told
Reduction in legal aid funding means solicitors are undertaking work at a loss
Legal aid solicitors who specialise in criminal law have been told that they can exercise discretion when accepting cases if the work threatens the viability of their firm.
Guidance published by the Law Society has reminded solicitors of their obligations under the legal aid contract to undertake certain work. It is aimed at all solicitors undertaking publicly funded criminal legal aid work and COFAs and COLPs of firms and other entities providing those services.
James Parry, chair of the society's criminal law committee, said: 'The aim of this practice note is to remind solicitors handling criminal law cases that only duty work is obligatory, and all other work may be refused on the grounds that it is uneconomical.'
Chancery Lane said the viability of criminal firms is under threat as the remuneration rates for legal aid work have not been increased since 1998.
'The reduction in funding for criminal legal aid work has created a situation where many solicitors are increasingly required to undertake work that is unremunerated or carried out at a loss,' added Parry. 'This presents a serious tension between continuing to undertake legally aided work and obligations to provide a proper standard of service to their clients or to conduct business in a financially sustainable manner. As a result firms must carefully consider each instruction, in particular as to whether to accept or refuse such instructions will be contrary to their professional obligations.
'Persistent cuts to rates can create a situation for providers where work cannot be carried out to the requisite professional standards without undermining the financial stability of providers.
'We recognised that solicitors need help in identifying circumstances which may warrant a refusal to undertake legal aid work and in doing so to ensure compliance with the Solicitors Regulation Authority's code of conduct. This new practice note sets out the situation as it exists under the contract.'