Stobart Barristers sets sights on criminal legal aid contract

Howarth: criminal law practices are very wounded animals

Stobart Barristers – the direct access service run by the famous logistics company – has given a strong indication that it will bid for the new criminal legal aid contracts the government is set to offer under price competitive tendering.

While not confirming it would be bidding, Trevor Howarth, group legal director at the Stobart Group and founder of Stobart Barristers, told Legal Futures that his business is “in line with what the government is thinking”.

He said the current model – with large numbers of firms doing identical work while fees are falling – was “unsustainable”. Even if they start to merge, that will not wipe out “the legacy of debt” most carry. He described criminal law practices as “very wounded animals ready to die”.

The Stobart model, which connects consumers with barristers so that they do not have to pay for the overheads associated with law firms, would allow criminal legal aid work to be done profitably at the proposed rates, Mr Howarth indicated.

The Legal Aid Agency would contract with Stobart Barristers to find the right barrister on a case-by-case basis, he added. Though he acknowledged that some overheads would be introduced at his end, these would be “switched on as and when we need them”, rather than being there permanently.

Mr Howarth also said he could extend his service to solicitor-advocates who left law firms and operated as self-employed advocates.

The possibility of non-legal organisations like the Stobart Group entering criminal legal aid has been used by the likes of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) as an example of the dangers of the government’s plans. Mr Howarth said: ” The chairman of the CBA criticises our model but he hasn’t seen the number of criminal barristers, including silks, joining us. He is out of step with his members.”

Mr Howarth has a background in criminal law work, dating back to preparing cases for the pre-Crown Prosecution Service Prosecuting Solicitors’ Office and working for several law firms, including as practice manager for the firm of celebrity solicitor Nick Freeman.

Mr Howarth said the “phenomenal uptake of Stobart Barristers is purely because of the brand” – since setting up nearly a year ago, it has worked for PLCs and local authorities as well as consumers.

    Readers Comments

  • What a load of tosh!

    The Govt are not tendering for advocacy. Mr Howarth wants to read FailingGrayling’s proposals. Contracts are for litigation and require bidders to have solicitors and accredited reps available to cover Duty Solicitor commitments at police stations and Magistrates Courts. All the ones i have spoken too would rather clean out the sewers than work for Eddie Stobart or Tesco.

    This” rent a barrister scheme” where Stobarts take a fat cut from the barrister’s (paltry) fees, for little or no effort, is not suited to PCT and will fail. Oh, and i think the Directors have to pass a fit and proper person test and the Organisation has to have Lexcel or SQM.

    If i am wrong, watch out for nothing more than “Acceptable” standards of advocacy in our courts, with Counsel in polyester gowns and plastic wigs.. Guilty pleas will soar and so will miscarriages of justice.

    #saveUKJustice #notopct

  • How would your barristers deal with clients in the police station at 4am? And who briefs your Counsel. How dare you say the Chairman of CBA is out of touch? Have you checked his followers?

  • Nonsense about barristers and silks joining them. Solicitors and barristers are 100% united against PCT and will neither bid for contracts nor work on an employed or self-employed basis for any ‘successful’ bidder. They will not participate in a destroyed justice system. The CBA is doing a great job. It has 3000 followers on twitter and I don’t see any dissent there.

  • This confirms the suspicions the criminal lawyers have. The aim of the legal aid proposals is to achieve a cut-price service with the profits going to big business while the customer – who might very well be innocent – is deprived of choice and receives a service which barely scrapes adequate.
    Mr Howarth’s comments about “wounded animals waiting to die” are distasteful and insensitve in the extreme to the thousands upon thousands of staff at businesses up and down the country who face redundancy. He should be ashamed.
    He has in the past benefited from a system in which he could choose his solicitor and instruct leading counsel (one presumes privately) to defend himself when he was accused of a serious crime against justice (and of which I of course add he was acquitted, with the courts saying he remained a man of good character). Of all people he should understand the value of choice, quality representation, and justice, and yet he supports taking all those rights away from those who do not have the privileges he had.
    Simply disgraceful.

  • shabir khattak says:

    word amongst the profession is that if companies like stobbarts obtain contracts then no solicitor/barrister will work for them……then what????

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