The Ministry of Justice intend to remove client choice to minimise the risk of standards becoming too high. The MoJ is proposing to introduce measures that ensure that the level of service provided by criminal lawyers does not exceed “acceptable” levels.
Ministry of Justice Consultation
In the consultation document “Transforming Legal Aid: Delivering a more credible and efficient system” the MoJ proposes removing a citizen’s access to the solicitor of their choice. Understandably, the legal profession is up in arms about these proposals and points to the fact that client choice is the best way of ensuring that standards remain high because the lawyer’s livelihood depends upon their reputation. Yet tucked away in the Impact Assessment of the Consultation (para 23) the MoJ reveal their hand in a manner that Gerald Ratner would have been truly proud.
In paragraph 23, they state that “client choice may in certain circumstances give an incentive to provide a legal aid service of the level of quality that is above the acceptable level… as firms compete on quality rather than price”. The paragraph goes on to state that removing client choice is likely to “reduce the extent of firms offering services above the acceptable level” . I had to re-read this section several times before it became clear to me that the MoJ want defence lawyers to perform at acceptable levels but no higher.
Acceptable Levels of Defence
So, don’t home visit a disabled person, don’t track down alibi witnesses who could prove your client’s innocence, don’t wade through unused material for that silver bullet that will secure your innocent client’s acquittal.
In its proposals, the MoJ is displaying a callous disregard for the rights of its citizens, as client choice and quality of legal service have been sacrificed on the altar of price competition.