Suggested e mail to non-lawyers requesting response through the hub.
Subject: defend your access to Justice
Firstly I do not like to send impersonal or group e mails and apologise for doing so and I hope you will realise that I am under pressure of time imposed upon me by the Government. We have until the 15th October to respond to a consultation on legal aid which may determine whether in future any legal access to Justice will survive, or whether when facing a state funded prosecution we will go back to the dark days when they used to joke that ‘The law is open to all – like the doors of the Ritz Hotel’. In other words, legal representation being the preserve of the wealthy citizen and the rest of us will have to deal with the complexity of the law alone without assistance.
I hope you will not mind if I give you my view of the current position:
1. Legal aid practitioners have had no increase in legal aid rates (pay) for 17 years.
2. The Government is proposing to cut legal aid rates by a minimum of 17.5% and somewhat randomly in some areas up to 40%.
It tries to do so by creating a two tier profession with just 25% of firms able to do ‘Duty Solicitor work ‘and the remaining 75% losing their duty solicitor work (which all firms need to replenish their client base of own clients) and these ‘Own Client only’ firms will live off the scraps not done by the duty firms. In that way it pretends these own client only firms can survive. But duty clients turn into ‘own clients’ so HMG betrays an ignorance of this (to us) obvious fact. The rates are in any event so low that the extra work for the duty ‘winners ‘can only be done unprofitably. More work at terrible rates does not make you viable.
3. The available evidence (contained in 2 reports by expert companies Otterburn and PA Consulting) establishes that hard pressed legal aid firms cannot withstand these levels of cuts. Another report by KPMG, its contents so heavily dictated by the Ministry of Justice so that it loses much credibility for independence, contains such absurd assumptions as to be beyond belief. In brief KPMG says:
a) The firms who do not secure a duty contract (Own client only) will benefit from the fact that the Duty Firms will so busy as to want to give to them 50% of their own clients.
No one I know thinks that any business will give up any work let alone 50% of it. Human nature is not like that. In business we hold what we have!
b) Although the reports suggest we need a profit margin of 5% to say ahead of the bills, This rogue KPMG report (and the Ministry of Justice of course adopts this) says we can survive not on 1% but 0.1% profit margin. Do you think anyone could survive on that? We don’t. We are small firms not multi nationals.
c) It is also important to realise that Barristers will be affected as well their Chambers are very much dependent upon receiving instructions from those solicitors firms about to be driven out of business.
4. So the Government adopted this KPMG report and ignored and supressed the main Otterburn and PA consulting reports that both told the truth about the parlous state of legal aid practitioners finances. They consulted the profession without telling us what the reports said. As a result we took the Lord Chancellor and the Ministry of Justice to the high court on a judicial review. We won. The Judge said that the Lord Chancellor, in failure to disclose the report for us to respond to was acting ‘unfairly and illegally’. (Shocking really) He urged that the Government do consult on all these reports.
3. The Government has now issued a consultation on the reports but instead of the usual period of 12 weeks recommended as fair, has only allowed 3 weeks to respond. That period expires on the 15th October 2014 just days away.
That consultation is ‘on line’ and is open to anyone to respond to and is not just meant for lawyers. After all the ability to have a fair trial is a matter for all especially with the anniversary of Magna Carta next year. It is important that you have local access to firms if needed and not rely on remote low quality ‘factory firms’ miles from where you live who may be all that is left. Client choice is important isn’t it?
To make the process as clear as possible the Criminal Law Solicitors Association (CLSA) together with the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) has developed a ‘response hub’ for everyone to use. It is an easy process and a 10 minute exercise to log on and complete with a multi choice format plus the ability to add a few of your own thoughts. To help understand the issues the CLSA have added their comments as for you to gain a quick insight into what most of us all think about the issues. But the actual reports are also there if you wish to read them and feel free to come to a different conclusion to those ‘notes’.
Numbers are important as this may influence the outcome as to whether the Government proceeds with this bizarre and unworkable scheme so please do respond. I hope that after reading the material on the hub you will feel able to say that in your view
a) No one in business will be likely give up any work let alone 50% of people who chose them as their solicitors. (A bit like a shop sending away their loyalty card customers to a rival chain) and
b) Especially with the reducing spend on legal aid due to excessive cautioning etc., that a 0.1% profit margin is something only the MOJ and their tame expert could think is viable in any business like any other being subject to outside variable costs and work flows and it makes no business sense at all.
It is of course up to you what you say and I just express above a hope that you may support us and if you do that you could mention a) and b) above.
Please write back if there are any issues that you need clarifying. I would ask another huge favour. If you agree to complete this simple response process would you kindly pass on this e mail to all you know? We want this to go nationwide. It needs the country to rise up and respond to this because access to justice is important for you your family and friends as we never know when a false accusation can be made. Most people arrested are never charged let alone convicted. That is often because legal aid lawyers make sure only the guilty are convicted.
So please respond to this web address below. You can click here. It is simple and fun to use.
Lastly thank you again for troubling to read this. If you do respond you will get an acknowledgement from both the MOJ, from the Associations and we will make sure the response is not ‘miscounted’ electronically by delivering the response that the association prints at their expense in person. We have won the Court case. Now we need to win the Consultation by overwhelming the Government with many responses.