The Ministry of Justice announced earlier this month that it would proceed with its decision on the second criminal legal fee cut of 8.75%. It has also announced that the contract number for solicitors who offer twenty-four hour cover at the police stations in all local communities would get reduced from 1,600 to just 527.
The Law Society in the United Kingdom feels that its priority is to do its best in providing support to all its members during this difficult phase. As a response to the review of criminal advocacy by the Ministry of Justice, the Law Society stands strongly opposed to suggestions that require an in-house lawyer representation as a conflict of interest. The Law Society has emphasised that solicitors have a duty towards their clients and that they have to act in the best interest of these clients and that includes advocacy options. Several clients opt to give their instructions to an advocate so that they can get representation on account of the advocate knowing the client well and understanding their concerns or issues.
About six months ago, members of the Young Legal Aid Lawyers joined their colleagues in the legal fraternity in expressing their happiness when they came to know that the Ministry of Justice may suspend their decision on the second fee cut and scarp the two-tier contracts. The government was finally coming to terms with the fact that solicitors had a crucial role to play in criminal legal aid system. The decision may have been based on important factors such as government savings and legal challenges. These news came in as a relief as the criminal legal aid firms and the practitioners were going through a difficult and unpredictable period.
With the criminal legal fee cut now coming back into play, it is felt that this decision may affect all aspiring and junior criminal lawyers. It has been tough for these aspiring lawyers to enter the legal profession in the first place. It is unfortunate for them that austerity is being considered as the order of the day by the government. Several ideological cuts are being brought into effect throughout the system of legal aid. Many young lawyers who want to become legal aid practitioners will find that there only a few training contracts that could be found on offer and those lawyers who are within the field are seriously concerned about their standing in this profession because of the uncertain future and insecurity.
The Ministry of Justice has not considered that its proposal to improve the current system of criminal legal aid would have a negative impact on the younger lot of solicitors. The generation gap cannot be avoided now among the people working in criminal legal aid. If these junior members of the legal profession are not protected sufficiently, there will be no possibility of the next generation of legal practitioners to go on with their important work of making sure that their clients are represented and that they gain access to justice.
We invite all junior solicitors on duty to contact us with their concerns and views. We sincerely hope that there is promising engagement from the Ministry of Justice about how to move forward so that we expect stability within the legal aid system to make sure that the firms can plan out their legal aid advocacy in a meaningful manner in the future. This kind of stability would bring about opportunities for all younger lawyers in legal aid to enter this profession without any hesitation so that they could take it forward.