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The Bar Council has refused to help the government come up with a scheme to assure quality when legal aid is competitively tendered.
The organisation, which represents barristers in England and Wales, said it had no plans to facilitate a programme “which will wreck the criminal justice system and drive over a thousand solicitors’ firms out of business”.
Maura McGowan QC, chairman of the bar, said in a statement: “The lord chancellor has asked the Bar Council to come up with a scheme which will ensure quality within the remit of the government's proposed price competitive tendering scheme for criminal legal aid. This is because the scheme as it stands has nothing to do with quality, only price. It is wrong to suggest otherwise. Preserving competition between service providers is simply not compatible with price competitive tendering. Real quality requires clients to be able to choose their lawyer, not to be allocated one by the same government which is charging them with a criminal offence."
In response, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice said: “We’ve invited the Bar Council to work with us to improve our proposals. It is disappointing that, having held regular discussions with them over the past few weeks, they now seem unwilling to engage on the important issue of assuring quality.”
This week the council published a detailed response to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation into its reforms of legal aid, which it believes could cut spend by £220 million by 2018-19. It described the introduction of competitive tendering as “fundamentally flawed”, adding that it would “incentivise the lowest possible quality of service”.
The government proposals have already faced significant criticism from the legal profession. The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, branded it as “hugely expensive” and “possibly unworkable”.