Publication Day for the Government's response finally arrived on February 27th. This response, you may recall, was promised to us before Christmas, December 18th I believe, then January 7th, then late January, then early February and finally, one day before the close of February, and significantly just 21 days before the Government expects us to be carrying on with the work we do so well, but at 8.75% less.
Plenty of time then to adjust our working practices, cut our overheads, re-jig our staffing ratios so that the decrease can be accommodated and we can keep our heads above water for the time being!
Given that Otterburn says that the supplier base has average profit margins of 5% with larger firms running on lower profit margins than that and that this is worse in London, it is difficult to imagine what steps need to be taken by firms to accommodate an 8.75% cut thus immediately placing them in a position where making a loss is more likely than turning a profit. Perhaps the last firm out will turn off the lights!
From a personal point of view, I am not sure whether reading the final response on February 27th was better or worse than reading the first consultation document on April 9th last year. Has much really changed?
Yes, PNC has gone but it is replaced by a "PNC through the back door plan" – the Two Tier Contract.
Have the proposed cuts altered in any way since April last year?
The answer of course is no. It was 17.5% then and it’s 17.5% now, albeit in two tranches.
Granted there has been a little bit of tinkering around the edges to the national police station fee and the trial fee but nothing to write home about
All in all the response is as damaging, if not more so as the first consultation paper all those months ago.
There are many points I would wish to take up with Mr Grayling if I were sitting in a room with him. If I were ever fortunate enough to be in a padded room with him there is no end to the number of points I would like to put his way on my own behalf and everyone else's. We could be in there for some time. However, there are two main points that I want to make now.
The first is to say that although Mr Grayling is at pains to point out that he has listened to all the arguments, it is quite clear to everyone that he has not listened at all. If he has, he just hasn't heard. Hence why I have drawn similarities between the final response and the first consultation paper.
18,000 responses, criticism from politicians from all sides and from both houses, warnings from the Judiciary ranging from the Magistracy up to the Supreme Court, criticisms from every representative organisation of the joint Professions, criticisms from the media and from the public.
And yet, the original plan remains intact but for a little tinkering here and there.
Every efficiency saving we have proposed, every idea for money to be saved has been ignored. Save for one. Our idea that Defendants when convicted should be required to pay a contribution to their Defence costs, which money would then be fed back into the Legal aid fund. Our calculations demonstrated that this could raise £ 55 m per year and over 4 years, that would amount to £220m! .Does that figure ring a bell with anyone?
This was rejected by Mr Grayling as being unworkable. But this idea has now found its way into the latest Bill, except the money paid by the guilty Defendant will go to the Court system and not the legal aid fund. Mr Grayling DID listen to this, but not closely enough!!
And so Mr Grayling, you have not listened at all.
The second point is that we need to thank him. Yet again, as tiny cracks began to appear in the powerful unified force that is the legal profession, Mr Grayling published his response and immediately those cracks have been cemented over, bolted together and once again he has brought the whole profession, both sides of it, together in total opposition to these evil proposals.
I am sure everyone has worked their way through the vast amount of paperwork delivered last Thursday. There is much in there to concern everyone.
Of major concern is Para 28.
You could be forgiven for reading it and missing the significance of it
"Following discussions with the Law Society , we acknowledged that in practice providers may wish to retain some of their Own Client Work, although these decisions will vary widely between different providers. Therefore, in order to maximise the number of Duty Provider Work contracts on offer and thereby reduce the consolidation challenge, we asked KPMG to model based on providers giving up no more than 50% of their Own Client Work. We think this departure from the intention set out in Next Steps is justified, as it assumes providers will retain some of their Own Client Work and we think best represents how providers are most likely to react in the new market."
The significance of course is that the whole scheme has been designed on the basis that a Duty contract holder will be happy to give away 50% of their own client work .You will all say but that is nonsense. Who would give any own client work away? Why should we? To do so would be commercial suicide!
But by the time this plan comes in, if it cannot be halted, many firms will already have gone. The initial cut will have seen some disappear.
Good lawyers, years of experience gone. Others will decide that it is just no longer worth the effort. Firms with the luxury of undertaking other kinds of work may well just decide to close their crime department. Once gone, these providers will never return The advice deserts will then appear. The system will then start to crumble .We have seen this happen with the CPS in every area. It is already creaking.
So we must do everything we can to persuade this Govt to turn back before it is too late. We must protest, we must lobby, and we must do whatever it takes to persuade the public that this is a system worth saving. Join your local training on Friday the 7th. Make sure your local media know what is happening and why. If you are not yet a member of the CLSA, then please consider joining. details of our special introductory offer, which has been extended until the end of April, are available here
We do not need a Govt induced failure of the Criminal Justice system. People need to understand their fundamental freedoms are protected by the system now in place. They will not be so protected if Mr Grayling' has his way.
Our main concern is that the Criminal Justice System, one of which we are all so proud, remains intact. Bring any of these proposals in and the system will begin to collapse. We have in this Country a Justice system which is quite rightly acknowledged as being the best in the world. The fairest and the safest but NOT, as the Govt would have us believe, the most expensive.
It has taken 800 years to achieve. Mr Grayling could go down in history as the person who took just 12 months to destroy it.
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