You are here

Half of criminal law firms could disappear under PCT proposals

4 February 2005

Criminal lawyers predict that nearly half of the London law firms doing legally aided criminal defence work will be forced out of business if price competitive tendering (PCT) is introduced.
Responding to the Legal Services Commission’s (LSC) launch of a consultation into PCT in the capital, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) said that up to 230 firms (classed as low-billers) out of an estimated 500 criminal firms in London, would face ‘destruction’ if the changes went ahead.
A joint statement released by the LCCSA, Criminal Law Solicitors Association, Criminal Bar Association and Solicitors Association of Higher Courts Advocates read: “The scheme is a prelude to the destruction of local high street firms and the independence of the solicitor’s profession.”
LCCSA president Angela Campbell called the scheme “ill-conceived, premature, and potentially disastrous”. “This proposed approach will result in forcing small, local high street solicitors out of business and the general public will suffer as a result,” Campbell said. “It will reduce the quality of service to local communities, not just in criminal aid, but also in civil aid. We will resist these proposals with every means available.”
The associations all said that they believed most firms would pass the ‘quality’ test proposed by the LSC and thus the determining factor in which firms got the work would be price. “The pressure would be to bid low to the point where it became uneconomical to take on a case,” said LCCSA committee member Greg Powell, of north London firm Powell Spencer & Partners. “To operate efficiently, less time would be spent on cases and therefore the quality of the advice would be driven down. This would be unsustainable and good suppliers would be forced out of the market, whilst consumers would suffer from less choice. It would fatten up some firms, but destroy others.”
David Spens QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said the knock-on effect for barristers would be “swift and irreversible… in the pursuit of a cut-price justice system”. “Solicitors will be encouraged by ‘market forces’ to subcontract, at rock-bottom rates, ‘cost effective’ cases to young barristers struggling to repay the costs of their lengthy training. The movement of our most talented young barristers away from publicly funded work and into other sectors has inevitable and grave implications for the criminal justice system generally.”
The LSC justified the system on the basis that the criminal legal aid budget – which rose to £1.1bn in 2003/4 – was limited and “more people can be helped if the cost of helping them is lower”.

Categorised in:

Funding Education