Monday, 24 August 2015

The Tuesday Truth

The Story so Far
by Zoe Gascoyne

In April 2013 the then Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, announced plans to cut criminal legal aid by 17.5%. He recognised that the profession could not sustain such a cut and so he sought to enforce market consolidation. His first plan was to introduce PCT and remove client choice.  The profession reacted angrily and 16,000 consultation responses were submitted. 

 A second consultation was commenced and notwithstanding the opposition the government announced Two Tier, forced consolidation which would see most firms put out of business.  The CLSA and LCCSA embarked upon not one but two Judicial Reviews in opposition to Two Tier.

On the 10th June 2015 the Lord Chancellor announced that he was to proceed with a further 8.75% cut to fees before any consolidation.  The same statutory instrument introducing the cut contains further cuts to be implemented in January 2016. The CLSA and LCCSA made immediate requests to meet with the Lord Chancellor to discuss their concerns. These requests were not responded to and so solicitors across the country took an unprecedented stand by refusing to work under the new rates. Merseyside were the first to take action publicly declaring that they wanted engagement with the Lord Chancellor and the MoJ. Many areas followed suit.

On the 23rd July, after just over three weeks of action and seven letters from the CLSA and LCCSA, the Lord Chancellor met with the committees. Discussions were held in relation to the cuts and two tier and the associations made their position and opposition to both very clear.

A paper was submitted to the MoJ for consideration and a second meeting to discuss various matters was held on the 3rd August 2015. After a ninety minute meeting it was agreed that the associations would provide the MoJ with examples of savings that could be made which might in turn negate the need to cut to legal aid rates for a three month period.

The Lord Chancellor has made it perfectly clear what he is and isn't willing to consider in the initial stages of negotiations. The Lord Chancellor and the MoJ state that they are committed to two tier unless an alternative could be produced to be implemented within the time scale. They maintain that any suspension of the cut would be for a period of three months if the savings could be made elsewhere.  The associations have made their ongoing position very clear to the MoJ during every meeting. On behalf of the profession we continue to seek a permanent suspension of the cut and we continue to challenge Two Tier.  We must however acknowledge what the Lord Chancellor has set out and we view this as being the start of longer term engagement.

On the 11th August 2015 a third meeting took place.  The meeting was to discuss the four proposals for savings with the MoJ and LAA.  An assurance had already been given that any proposals made would not simply be banked. The proposals were well received and it was acknowledged that they were practical and could potentially amount to savings within the system to make up the short fall for suspending the cut. Since that meeting there has been telephone communication this week on two separate occasions between the associations and the MoJ. It is clear that the MoJ are taking the suggestions seriously and have embarked upon some number crunching before any final decisions can be made.

The associations have made considered decisions at every stage. There have been assurances made by the MoJ that since the last meeting there has been no unnecessary delay. The proposals made were serious and worthy of consideration. The calculations will take a little time given the information required across the board.  In the meantime a decision has been taken that the action should be suspended. This decision has been made as a consequence of a number of factors including information made available to those negotiating. We take the views of the profession seriously and we acknowledge the difficult financial constraints that the action was imposing upon an already fragile profession. We also recognise that there are members of the profession who have sought to gain whilst action is being taken.

At this stage we make it perfectly clear that this is far from over. The negotiations are on going and we expect a response within the next two weeks. Once that response has been received we will be in a position to move forwards in one way or another. We take the view that this is a process that needs to be dealt with in stages.

In the meantime we have embarked upon a fresh start with the new leadership of the CBA and we continue with our fight to ensure a sustainable criminal justice system for those who need it and for the profession themselves.

The CLSA and LCCSA consist entirely of criminal legal aid practitioners.  There will be no deals and no capitulation.  We understand and acknowledge the frustrations of many but we ask for an understanding that we cannot broadcast every detail across social media. There has been a solid fight by the associations against two tier and the cuts for two years, our opposition remains just as strong.  There is currently a bid withdrawal survey organised by the LCCSA which remains open until the 28th August. We understand that there are some who call for a continuation of the action however the suspension allows for a period of reflection.  To allow a response to the negotiations this far and to consider what steps may be required in the future.  There are times when action is necessary and there are times when negotiation should be allowed to take place with clean hands.

Over the last two years the CLSA and LCCSA have organised numerous rallies and demonstrations. We have consulted MP's and spoken to the press. We have written open letters. We have raised funds for legal proceedings. We have attended meetings and organised meetings. We have taken legal advice and we have united a previously fragmented profession.  We have provided alternatives and we are negotiating. We have fought long and hard for two years and we remain staunch in our opposition. We have not given up. The were many who said that the action would never happen and they were wrong. There are many saying that we have waved the white flag and they too are wrong.





1 comment:

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