22 Jun 2007 01:21 PM
Legal aid reform is about helping as many as possible

MINISTRY OF JUSTICE News Release (No:084/07) issued by The Government News Network on 22 June 2007

Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Lord Falconer today said legal aid reform would ensure as many people as possible were helped within the resources available by encouraging efficient working practices in the legal profession.

In his response to the Constitutional Affairs Committee Report, Implementation of the Carter Review of Legal Aid, Lord Falconer said the overall reform programme, including the extension of fixed and graduated fees to pay for legal aid work, was necessary to ensure spending remained under control and was focused on helping those most in need.

Lord Falconer accepted the Committee's recommendations that the processes needed to implement best value tendering for legal aid work would require careful design.

"I welcome the Committee's thorough and wide-ranging report, and its recognition that the legal aid system is in need of reform. I am also pleased that they recognise that we are heading in the right direction by moving to payment for legal advice on a per case basis, rather than by the hour.

"Our reforms are designed to encourage efficiency, quality and good practice and will enable more people to be helped within the resources available. They also support wider Government reforms to the justice system, which encourage the speedy and effective resolution of cases."

Legal Aid Minister Vera Baird QC MP said:

"I am equally glad that the Committee recognised the need for reform of legal aid and that the change from payment by inputs to paying by outputs is a wise direction to travel. In order to sustain the best- resourced legal aid system in the world we must make sure that we get the best value from it. That is the only way to ensure that those who need it most - vulnerable people suffering from family and social welfare law problems - can be sure that it is there for them. This is what the Government's reform programme is designed to do."

Notes to Editors

1. The full response document Implementing Legal aid reform: Government Response to the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee is available on http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications.reports.htm

2. The Department for Constitutional Affairs (now Ministry of Justice) and Legal Services Commission (LSC) published Legal Aid Reform: the Way Ahead on 28 November 2006, outlining the legal aid scheme reform proposals.

3. This followed the consultation on Lord Carter's report into legal aid procurement, published in July 2006. The Government accepted the broad thrust of Lord Carter's recommendations: to make much greater use of fixed and graduated fees as a preliminary phase to gain control over expenditure; encourage efficiency and prepare the market before moving to best value competition.

4. Currently, legal aid is paid by a mixture of fixed and graduated fees and hourly rates. Fixed and graduated fees offer greater control over spending, and give lawyers certainty over payment. Hourly rates increase costs and reward inefficiency. The proposals will extend the use of fixed and graduated fees to nearly all areas of legal aid as an interim step to best value tendering, based on quality, capacity and price. Spending on legal aid rose from £1.5bn in 1997 to around £2bn today. Between 1997 and 2004, spending on criminal legal aid rose 37%, whilst spending on civil and family legal aid (excluding immigration and asylum), fell by 24%.

5. Last year the Community Legal Service funded nearly 800,000 acts of advice and assistance, the greatest number since its creation in 2000, and an increase of over 200,000 compared to 2004/05

6. The LSC announced final fee schemes for family private help and for help and representation by solicitors in child care cases today. They will apply from October 2007 (though 'Level 3' and advocacy have been deferred to July 2008 and will be the subject of further consultation - as already envisaged for advocacy). Final fees for mental health work have also been announced today and will apply from January 2008.

7. The new fee schemes will be implemented by regulations, as well as by changes to the Unified Contract.

8. The LSC also published today a consultation on how duty solicitors' slots at the police station and magistrates' court should be allocated from October 2007; and the response to the consultation on police station fees. 9. The LSC and MoJ also published today a consultation document Creating a Quality Assurance Scheme for Publicly Funded Criminal Defence Advocates, for advocates working in the Crown courts and above. This document is available at http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications.consultations.htm.

Timetable

April 2007

* Initial phase of new fixed and graduated fee schemes (Crown Court Advocacy work, magistrates' court work in urban areas, introduction of new Unified Contract for civil providers). Harmonisation of fees for solicitors conducting private law family work in the county court and the Family Proceedings Court.

October 2007 - January 2008

* Second phase of new fixed and graduated fee schemes (Tailored Fixed Fee replacement for civil legal help, Family fee schemes, Asylum and immigration fee scheme, Very High Cost Cases panel, Police stations fixed fees, Crown Court litigators' graduated fee scheme, Mental Health fee scheme, Crown Court Advocates Quality assurance scheme pilots)

April 2008

* Single advocacy fees in both family and crown court work. October 2008 onwards

* Rollout of best value tendering, on a regional basis, beginning for criminal lower work.

ENDS

http://www.justice.gov.uk