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Grayling open to ‘alternatives’ on legal aid cuts

The Government is to ‘look again’ at plans to introduce competitive tendering for legal aid awards, which would effectively remove their right to choose their own solicitor.

Justice secretary Chris Grayling wanted to see fewer but bigger organisations to provide legal aid and those earning more than £37,500 would not have automatic access to state support.

The plans are part of a move to cut £220m from the annual criminal case legal aid budget in England and Wales. The MoJ has to make a further 10% cuts in 2015-16.

Critics of the plan argued that people would be allocated a representative on the basis of cost and that defendants will not get a fair trial if they need specialist advice.

Grayling said he was now prepared to reconsider, in a letter to Commons Justice Committee chairman Sir Alan Beith. He wrote: “The rationale for proposing this change was to give greater certainty of case volume for providers, making it easier and more predictable for them to organise their businesses.

“It is not a policy objective in its own right. However, I have heard clearly from the Law Society and other respondents that they regard client choice as fundamental to the effective delivery of criminal legal aid.

“I am therefore looking again at this issue and expect to make changes to allow a choice of solicitor for clients receiving criminal legal aid.

“As I have consistently made clear, this is a genuine consultation. I have made clear throughout that I am open to alternative proposals that meet the same objectives, including delivering the same level of savings.”

Maura McGowan QC, chairwoman of the Bar Council, said: “We welcome the government's change of heart on this, but we hope it is also listening to the many voices which are clear that price competitive tendering in any form is not a suitable mechanism for allocating legal aid contracts.

“Legal aid contracts should not just go to the bidders who are willing to do the work for the lowest price."

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