Labour would halt plans to slash on-call legal aid solicitors
The Labour Party would reverse coalition plans to slash the number of on-call, legal aid solicitors attending police stations and magistrates’ courts, the party will say on Friday.
Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, pledged to launch an immediate review of the coalition’s proposed 8.75% fee cuts and to work with the legal profession to find alternative savings.
The new two-tier contracts for criminal legal aid – due to reduce from 1,600 to 527 in England and Wales from next summer – are already the subject of a judicial review.
Khan hopes to find additional resources by cooperating with the Law Society, which says the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, has declined to take up its offers of making economies elsewhere in the justice system.
Khan told the Guardian: “If Labour wins in May, we won’t implement the government’s current proposals for two-tier contracting … I will stop the absurdity of the two-tier contract straight away. Everybody knows that the current legal aid market is in need of reform and that the number of providers is in need of rationalisation but the way the government has gone about its procurement plans risks depriving people of access to justice.”
He said: “I don’t have a magic wand to wave. I can’t commit to reverse the £600m cuts to legal aid made by the Tories and Lib Dems. We will still have to take tough decisions on reducing the deficit.
“Get this wrong and we risk creating a justice system in which people are left without quality legal representation, and the very real chance of miscarriages of justice. The public want the truly guilty to be caught, prosecuted, convicted and punished. They don’t want the innocent jailed for crimes they didn’t commit.”
The Labour justice spokesman continued: “The government is making a pig’s ear of access to justice. Not only have their changes left many without access to justice, the farcical way they’ve gone about it has caused chaos and confusion leaving those that work in the profession demoralised and undermining the system’s ability to deliver justice”.