Nia Griffith MP has written to Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling MP, urging the Government to rethink the way it plans to introduce price-competitive tendering for criminal legal aid cases in England and Wales.
The proposed reforms would see law practices having to bid for legal aid work, with a maximum number of four firms appointed to cover the whole of the Dyfed Powys area. Firms offering to undertake work at the lowest price are most likely to win the bid. Solicitors would no longer win work by building up a good reputation for providing an excellent service; instead the work would go to the cheapest provider, who would have no commercial incentive to provide a high quality service. This would drastically reduce the quality of the legal aid system and could put many legal practices throughout the Dyfed Powys area out of business. Under the proposed system, people whose cases are funded by legal aid would lose the right to choose their own solicitor, and there is no guarantee that a Welsh -speaking solicitor will be found for anyone who prefers to speak Welsh.
‘This model really does not fit the scattered rural nature of Dyfed Powys which is currently served by many small local firms of solicitors, which do not have the networks to work across the whole area, so who knows how far clients could have to travel, an expense which many of them simply cannot afford. Even more absurdly under these proposals, because the person seeking advice has to stay with the advice provider given to them initially, someone who commits four offences over the period of a week could be seen by a different legal firm each time, and end up being in court for all four offences on the same day, but represented by four different legal firms. Local solicitors have pointed out that considerable savings on legal aid have already been made, and they have identified other ways that additional money could be saved. The real effect of these changes will be that some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society will not be represented fairly in the courts. How can we risk those that cannot afford to pay for representation being convicted not because they are guilty but because the prosecution has better lawyers than they do?
‘It has taken decades to build a legal system, one which is admired around the world, which offers citizens equal access to legal representation. That is about to disappear. ‘