Yesterday I spoke to Paul Mendelle QC, joint head of chambers at 25 Bedford Row and former chair of the Criminal Bar Association, about the government’s proposals on criminal legal aid. He explained his opposition to price competitive tendering and his thoughts on very high cost cases (VHCCs).
He also told me the thinking behind his question to Andy Slaughter MP at last week’s “Legal Aid Question Time” – and what he thought of the answer.
Which ever way the legal profession argue against the changes to both the legal aid budget and the way the MoJ propose it is to be adminstered in criminal cases, the pachyderm in the lounge seems to be over looked: We spend an awful lot of money on legal aid.
A quick check on the figures for the current annual criminal LA budget shows it is £1.1billion. There are just over 900 members of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association and under 4,000 memebers of the Criminal Bar Associastion, so let’s say around 5000 in total. Dividing that number into the £1.1bn would give each member of their respective organisation £220,000.
Clearly real life is nothing like that simplistic assessment, and most CLSA members will be firms rather than individual solicitors, but those figures do at least indicate why many of us outside the legal profession feel here is an awful lot of special pleading here, dressed up as it’s the end of justice as we know it, from m’learned friends.
Even after the proposed cuts have been applied, with the removal of certain categories of civil work, the future Legal Aid budget is still a considerable amount of money, which if allocated in a more equitable manner, could still sustain a healthy and viable community of criminal lawyers. Like many other institutions, lawyers need to adapt to a changing landscape. ABS was bound to bring in such players as Tesco and Eddie Stobbart Barristers, and no amount of sniffiness from the larger traditoional chambers is going to resist this tide of change.
Good comment from Andy above.
However they look at it, criminal defence barristers are private sector contractors to the public sector. It is incumbent upon the MoJ to get the best price for a fair job. The market isn’t working in the current system, perhaps introducing it will drive up quality and drive down cost.
Everyone else has had to take pay cuts and redundancies and the inexorable drive to get more from less. The bar should be no different.