UK
01/07/2013 21:27 BST | Updated 01/07/2013 21:29 BST

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling In Rethink Over Legal Aid Lawyer Choice

Justice secretary Chris Grayling has signalled in a letter to MPs that he is preparing to rework one of the most heavily-criticised aspects of his legal aid reforms.

Ahead of his appearance before the Commons Justice Select Committee on Wednesday, Mr Grayling has said he expects to make changes to a proposal to remove the client's right to choose a solicitor when receiving criminal legal aid.

legal aid

The Law Society welcome the government's 'constructive engagement' over the issue

After consulting with The Law Society, which represents some 130,000 solicitors in England and Wales, Mr Grayling said he would look again at the issue and expects to allow a choice of solicitor for clients.

Solicitors and barristers believe the proposal, which would see lawyers compete for contracts, could destroy the ''world-renowned'' justice system in England and Wales.

In a letter to Sir Alan Beith, chair of the Justice Select Committee, Mr Grayling said: "One specific point in the consultation which has attracted significant response is the proposal to remove client choice in the model for competition for criminal litigation.

"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 to provide the most cost-effective service to the taxpayer - 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."

The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, published its response to the Ministry of Justice consultation on the reforms.

The 150-page response said price competitive tendering (PCT) promotes the ''lowest possible quality of service'' and will result in further changes to civil legal aid, hitting society's most vulnerable people.

Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, President of the Law Society, said: "By listening to us on client choice, the Government has shown it is serious about constructive engagement, which I welcome. Client choice of solicitor is a fundamental component of a fair justice system and a driver of quality in provision of legal advice."

Kat Craig, legal director at human rights group Reprieve, said: "The justice secretary is finally starting to realise just how ill-conceived these proposals are.

"They threaten to destroy the principle of equality before the law and the ability of the public to hold the government to account. Little tweaks here and there won't change the fact that Grayling is destroying British justice.

"Grayling has failed to address the heavily criticised 'residence test' which would leave the government free to act unlawfully anywhere outside Britain, with its victims denied access to justice.

"While he claims that is determined to reduce costs without jeopardising quality, the bottom line is that these changes are so badly thought out that they will cost more than they save."