Below is an email I received this morning, 4th July, from Richard Atkinson, Chair of the Criminal Law Committee, Law Society of England and Wales. Posted with his permission.
There has been much concern expressed in some quarters about the Law Society’s alternative proposal which has been submitted to the Ministry of Justice and I understand some of those concerns however much of what is being said is ill informed and plain wrong.
The Law Society is not selling out or sacrificing sole practitioners or indeed any other of its members.
The announcement of the Secretary of State that he is restoring client choice is good news.
The abolition of client choice was a corner stone of PCT. In my view PCT has now been dealt a fatal blow. Sadly the Ministry are yet to share that view and believe that there may still be legs in their PCT model and so the fight goes on.
To understand what has happened and where we are it is important to remember that the Government’s stated proposals were two fold. Firstly they wanted to restructure the market through PCT. Secondly they wanted to deliver £220 million of savings to the Criminal Legal Aid budget.
The Law Society’s position and that of the practitioner groups was we believed that PCT could not work and had to be withdrawn. We would not discuss savings despite the Secretary of State’s call for us to do so until PCT was taken from the table. This message was delivered to the Secretary of State in person when he attended two meetings with criminal law solicitors organised by the Law Society.
A fantastic campaign was led against PCT by the practitioner groups with the Bar and the Law Society. Who can forget the fantastic rally at Friends House organised by the CLSA, LCCSA and LAPG. The campaign that followed saw massive lobbying of MPs, ministers and officials. Regular meetings have been held at the Law Society with those groups present to maintain a unified position.
As pressure mounted on the government there became a need to look at offering an alternative to the fatally flawed PCT scheme for although we could all see the disaster the PCT would bring the government refused to move without an alternative in its place. An alternative proposal was therefore developed with all the representational bodies being kept informed and all, including the Bar and CBA, contributing to its final content. Not all agreed with the approach but none opposed the paper. The paper passed through the Law Society’s relevant committees and overseeing board and was agreed.
Following the submission of the paper to the MoJ the Secretary of State announced the re-instatement of client choice. This was no co-incidence.
The PCT proposals spelled the end for 75% or more of all firms. Small firms were out of the picture, large firms faced financial ruin as well. The Law Society proposal has to be judged against this not the status quo. The status quo, as the results of the Law Society’s survey from practitioners and the Deloitte Report showed, is not viable in the short to medium term. From the government’s perspective it was never an option.
What the Law Society have proposed, if accepted, would give practitioners certainty. For if they meet the criteria they will get a contract, no competitive element. As a rolling contract as contained in the proposal it will deliver a long term basis to attract financial support from banks for ant financing that might be need to meet the demands of any new contract.
The proposal does include a degree of market consolidation but the Law Society is working, with outside accountants and lawyers to develop new business models that will allow firms to consolidate in such a way as to maintain their independence but still meet the contracting requirements. This is not abandoning sole practitioners. Large sums of money are being spent to ensure that the impact of the new changes will not be to destroy sole practitioners and small firms. The Law Society has worked with the practitioner groups to develop a new contract that will be significantly better than that proposed under the PCT proposals. The final scheme and support packages are not complete yet but they will make survival a possibility for all who wish to adapt. PCT offered no such hope.
Finally cuts. What cuts is all I would say. The Law Society has in keeping with the original strategy had no discussions with the Ministry around figures. The new proposals have nothing to do with delivering cuts or savings. They simply seek to address market sustainability.
The discussions about money are yet to come. If we stay united we can be far more effective in those discussions than if that unity fragments. The benefits will be to all, the opportunities greater.
There has been no sell out, no betrayal, just an awful lot of hard work to get the best possible future for the profession in very difficult times.
For those that continue to have concerns I am happy to discuss matters further and to give as much information as possible. Don’t allow misinformation and wild speculation to undermine what we have achieved so far. This is a time for holding our nerve and staying united.