That was the answer i got when I asked a head of a set of chambers on the South Eastern Circuit, whether or not the question of Solicitors’ Dual Contracts had been raised at the meeting of Heads of Chambers of his Circuit.
It had not.
Currently our legal aid defence work is derived principally from small to medium High Street Solicitors firms. They, in turn attract either own client work, from previous clients or “walk-ins”, or in the alternative, work they pick up in police stations or Mags Courts as duty Solicitors.
That is to be abolished as part of the MoJ’s plans for restructuring of the CJS.
You will all be aware that Solicitors LGFS fees were to be cut by 17.5%. Initially that was to be split into two tranches, half just now, and half next year. I have heard it said, though the position is confused, that MoJ have decided to put the second cut on hold. Even if they do, it will not save small firms.
In its impact assessment, MoJ quoted results of work they themselves had commissioned from KPMG and Otterburn’s. The result was a finding that the average solicitor’s profit margin on legal aid crime was between 5 and 6%. It follows that even one 8.5% reduction will finish many of them if not all.
That I am afraid is only the beginning. The MoJ also calculated that solicitors could rely on achieving 50% Own Client work. Any solicitor will tell you that is nonsense. The figure is far lower, and bound to fall further.
The current system of individual solicitors holding their own personal duty slots is also to go.
What this means is that the existing number of Duty Solicitor slots, which I believe to be about 1800, is to be reduced to 525 spread around the country. Very similar to the PCT proposals, because it is in fact, PCT through the back door. Solicitors will be invited to tender for these contracts, to be allocated to firms rather than individuals. In addition, in areas where they operate, PDS units will be guaranteed a Duty Contract. For example in the Cheltenham area, there are four slots up for grabs, and PDS are guaranteed one.
Economists amongst us will have worked out, as the MoJ did, that economies of scale will come into play here. Small to medium firms will simply not be able to compete for the limited work available. It will be uneconomic for them even to try.
The only ones who can contemplate making it work, will be the largest conglomerates, including Stobart, who will take the work for a knock down rate, but only on the basis that it is unviable for them unless they employ HCA’s at knock down rates, to do the Crown Court Advocacy. £25,000 a year is a figure I have seen mooted.
It follows that in order to be able to run a viable business on these margins, they must take all advocacy work in house.
End result, no small to medium solicitors, and no Legal Aid Criminal Defence Bar. Our customers, and therefore our work will disappear in a year to 18 months.
None of this appears to have been explained to the Heads of Chambers meetings last week. It might be said that they were voting on a false premise.
The circuit leaders and a majority of the CBA Executive Committee are effectively saying that the Bar has won its fight and should move on. My argument for your consideration is that the Dual Contracts issue IS the Bar’s fight, as much as the solicitors.
I argued this in the CBA committee meeting last Wednesday.
Those, like me, who argued against the deal were in a minority. I cannot be certain that those in the majority fully grasped the issue.
The CBA is not rushing to publish the opposing view. By all means read what they have published, but I hope you will all take account of what I have said, and also contributions from other committee members, Dan Bunting and the irrepressible Ian West. links below.
Here is a Link to “The Deal” http://tinyurl.com/kwp47w4
Here is Ian West’s response http://www.crimeline.info/news/criminal-bar-association-resignation
Here is Dan Buntings view http://danbunting.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/deal-or-no-deal/
Dan is on the CBA Exec, and argued this as well, albeit on a telephone link, and in nothing like this much detail.
Younger members may be assisted by this blog from Max Hardy. On CBA Exec and also Chair of Young Bar Associationhttp://counselofperfection.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/deal-or-no-deal-what-now_31.html?m=1
And a balanced View From The North. Jaime Hamilton, always well worth a read.http://jaimerhblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/why-i-support-the-cba-but-oppose-the-deal/
I know that there is more material to come from eminent members of the Criminal Bar.
The Circuit Leaders have published more today.
Whatever you do, before you vote, please read all of it. there is more being published very regularly on the CBA blog.
I may well have more to say on here. Keep an eye out if you feel it will help.
Contrary to suggestions from some quarters, I am not trying to “Undermine” the CBA committee decision. now we have a debate and a vote, i am trying to ensure that both are balanced and FULLY informed
James Vine @jamespsvine