SOLICITORS have hit out over proposed cuts to legal aid.
The Government shake-up is an attempt to cut the £2billion budget of what it calls one of the world’s most expensive legal systems.
Possible changes to financial help in criminal law include fee cuts of up to 17.5 per cent, price-competitive tendering for legal aid contracts, and clients no longer being able to choose their own defence lawyer.
Scores of solicitors from the North East were among thousands who headed down to London to protest against the moves earlier this month.
Defence solicitor Heather Bolton said: “This area will allocate 10 contracts, so all client choice will be removed. The work will be divided equally so that every firm will receive one tenth of the work.
“Therefore, there is a concern about quality, as at the present time client choice and the number of firms drives quality.”
Fellow solicitor Michael Robertson added: “It is proposed that for the Northumbria Police area there will be 10 providers.
“There is no requirement to have an office in Sunderland at all. All the offices could be in Alnwick.
“How will people access legal advice? If you have money, it will be no problem.
“The proposal, if implemented, will remove competition, will in-build low quality, will assure that for most people of the Northumbria Police area, there will be no local solicitor to visit and will result in limited rights of choice for those forced through the process.
“Not only that, the proposed system isn’t guaranteed to save money. All it will take is an upsurge in criminal arrests and charging and the legal aid bill will go up, not down.”
Consultation about the changes closes next month, with an online petition against the moves attracting more than 34,000 signatures.