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Warning over legal aid reforms

Warning over legal aid reforms

Overhauling the legal aid system could destroy the British justice system, ministers have been told. The Bar Council has published its response to the Ministry of Justice consultation on reforms of the legal aid system, which could pave the way for lawyers to compete for contracts.

The 150-page response of the council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, said that price competitive tendering (PCT) can force down the quality of service. It can also lead to changes in civil legal aid, which could hit society’s most vulnerable people. Criminal defendants who live in households with a disposable income of £37,500 could also see legal aid access halted automatically, while prisoners’ rights to support would also be cut. The Bar Council chairman, Maura McGowan QC, said that Justice Secretary Chris Grayling should bring about any required reforms “without destroying a world-renowned institution”. She added:

“There is no avoiding the simple fact that these proposals would move us from having a justice system which is admired all over the world, to a system where price trumps all. PCT may look as though it achieves short-term savings, but it is a blunt instrument that will leave deep scars on our justice system for far longer. Further cuts to the scope of civil legal aid will limit access to justice for some of the most vulnerable. That is a legacy of which no Government should be proud.”

She went on the say that the plans do not have a “sufficient evidence base” in order to attract support. She said:

“We believe that if these proposals are implemented as they stand, the system will go very badly wrong. Once implemented, these measures cannot be easily reversed.”

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