Solicitors and barristers will have to adjust to “the new circumstances” they are facing as a result of legal aid and other reforms “if they are going to survive”, justice minister Lord McNally said yesterday.
Responding in the House of Lords to a question on legal aid from Bar Standards Board chair Baroness Deech, and follow-ups from other peers, Lord McNally said “we have heard various parts of the legal profession harping on about the worst-case scenario, which we simply do not accept”.
He continued: “We are in consultation and have put forward proposals about legal aid contracts. However, the legal professions are facing a number of changes, irrespective of what we are proposing on legal aid… and they will have to adjust to the new circumstances if they are going to survive.
“We are consulting with the Law Society and Bar Council, and with other bodies and individuals. We are listening and we hope to get a solution that will reflect what the government can afford to pay on legal aid at the moment but that will also leave us with the protections for our legal aid system that many of us have taken pride in.”
Lord McNally dismissed calls to slow down the introduction of price competitive tendering: “It is about 10 years since the Carter report had a look at this matter. It is more than three years since the previous Labour government made cuts to criminal legal aid. The Labour Party, in its 2010 manifesto, was the only party to say that it would look for further cuts in legal aid.
“In that time there have been changes – alternative business structures and other changes – to the legal profession, yet we are still told that this has come as a surprise. Instead of asking for more time and putting forward arguments that are mainly scare stories, it would be good if the legal profession responded to this consultation with a productive dialogue that could put legal aid on a sustainable and lasting footing.”
He suggested that “barristers and solicitors start thinking about how best to organise themselves to function in circumstances in which money may be a little tighter than it once was. These are circumstances that many other professions and many other areas of our society have to face”.