Commons Select Committee: The Justice Committee was appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Ministry of Justice and associated public bodies. Today, 3rd July 2013, the Committee held an evidence session in relation to Price Competitive Tendering Proposals in the Government’s Transforming Legal Aid Consultation. Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Ministry of Justice gave his evidence in relation to Criminal Law and PCT.
Solicitors have said that they need to leave competition in place so that the best flourish.
Our baseline is 17.5% for cuts. I do not need to get much more than that. 17.5% delivers the savings.
You have kept choice. Was that because it was unlawful or unworkable?
I am not convinced that the Article 6 argument is right. Competition between firms based on choice, we do not want to lose specialism. You cannot make changes to a consultation mid-consultation. I had to see it through.
This has been prepared for 2 to 3 years, and is not just something out of the blue.
The Law Society, and we, think there are too many organisations out there.
Wales will go from 460 to 21, do you accept that this is ridiculous and is simply not going to work?
He states that it is about sustainability. I wouldn’t want to see parts of rural areas, including Wales without access to legal aid.
There is not a shortage of lawyers in this country. We need to look at the number of people operating in criminal legal aid. Those barristers who are at the lower end of the legal aid are doing a small number of cases. People are struggling to get the work.
Why doesn’t your paper consider victims?
We have just drafted a new Victims Code, we are doing a lot for victims. The best thing we can do is have a proper justice system, which means they are tried fairly, prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished properly.
“You have to deal with the world as it is, not how you would like it to be.”
If lawyers fail in their duties, there are a few mechanisms in place. We intend to use peer review.
Responses say there will be a lack in quality. Why don’t the profession work with the Ministry to assess how we can retain quality? “The Law Society are working with us, but the Bar have said no… How does that work?”
It would be a complete waste of public money for me to do an extensive impact assessment.
I am optimistic that firms will be bidding for PCT. The Law Society agree that consolidation of the market needs to be done. The consequence of a straight 17.5% cut, with firms in their current form, will be unmanageable. The objective of this is for it to be a managed condition.
I have said from day 1, that if someone has a better approach, that achieves our goals, makes the savings, we are happy to discuss it, and that is why it is a consultation.
Do you accept that there is a big difference between quality and qualification?
Our current intention would be to use peer review in relation to quality standards. I do not want to chuck out experienced lawyers and use cheap and cheerful. I am not going to accept bids from firms who cannot deliver quality service.
There will be a second consultation stage in September.
I praise BME community and firms, but does not accept that they will suffer. They should deliver new business model. I am confident they have the skills to deal with this, as well as anyone else. It will be difficult for all firms, but I do not see why BME will suffer anymore than anyone else.
If we are going to have a situation of choice, then they can choose a solicitor across the country.
In relation to duty slots, we are in discussion with The Law Society. We are now looking at this quite carefully.
Do you accept that there are dangers that undue influence will be placed on a Defendant to plead guilty?
I want people who are guilty, to plead guilty at the earliest convenience. High professional standards in the profession will give proper advice. I struggle to accept that there will be dangers. We are not going to be in a position where the innocent are being told to plead guilty.