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Solicitor claims cuts in fees will turn city into a legal aid ‘desert’
A top Bradford solicitor claims that two out of three law firms in the city will go out of business due to big cuts in fees.
Ray Singh, a partner with Bradford-based firm Pether-bridge Bassra, said plans by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to slash solicitor’s fees by 17½ per cent would turn Bradford into a “desert” for criminal legal aid.
Lawyers, locally and nationally, have been fighting Ministry of Justice proposals to replace the criminal legal aid system with a tendering system, to save £220 million.
They claimed members of the public would no longer get the solicitor of their choice as a result, and it would lead to a two-tier system where those with money would get better access to justice.
Yesterday, Mr Grayling scrapped plans to award legal aid contracts to the lowest bidders. Contracts for duty solicitors’ work, such as at police stations, will now be assessed on the quality and capacity of bidding law firms. A cap on the number of contracts to be awarded has been lifted under the revised reforms.
The Law Society, which was involved in talks, welcomed the new proposals.
Mr Singh described the new proposals as a “U-turn” by the Justice Secretary, and said the proposed fees reduction came on top of a 13½ per cent reduction which was implemented last year.
He said there had not been an increase in solicitors rates’ since 1996.
Mr Singh said: “Typical Bradford law firms cannot survive that reduction in fees. They are already working on a shoestring.
“I would say that two-thirds of the law firms will go to the wall within the next two years.
“Our firm is going to have to lay off staff and the existing staff will have to work three times as hard.”
Mr Singh said the new proposals would initially give clients choice of solicitor.
But he added: “If two-thirds of the firms disappear because they cannot make it work economically, client choice will go.”
Mr Singh said a meeting of Bradford Law Society would discuss what to do next.