Following a statement earlier this month by Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, The Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, those in need of legal advice on the Island and Island solicitors can be reassured that some elements of the proposed changes to the Legal Aid system which would have restricted the ability of Island solicitors to advise people charged with a crime will now not go ahead.
In May of this year Eve Taylor of RJR Solicitors set up a meeting with the Island’s MP, Andrew Turner together with a number of colleagues representing other Island law firms. The meeting was set up to discuss their concerns about the implications of proposed changes to the legal aid system.
They told Mr Turner that the plans for ‘price competitive tendering’, leading to a national reduction in the number of firms able to tender for contracts, would take away the current freedom of Island clients to select a local solicitor they want to represent them and would seriously threaten the viability of some Island firms.
Following the meeting, Mr Turner raised the issues with Chris Grayling and also with the Attorney General, The Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP to highlight specific issues facing the Island because of the costs and difficulties in accessing mainland law firms. He asked for the Island to be dealt with as a special case.
Chris Grayling made a statement in the House of Commons on 5th September announcing some revisions to the original proposals.
Mrs Taylor commented on behalf of RJR Solicitors:
“We are disappointed, though not surprised, that the Government is continuing to cut criminal legal aid fees. We are however pleased that it appears that the Isle of Wight will now be treated as a distinct area rather than being combined with Hampshire. We welcome the Government’s back-tracking, so that Island clients will continue to have a choice of criminal defence solicitor; though such choice may prove illusory unless there remain firms able to provide the service on a financially viable basis.
“The defence solicitors on the Isle of Wight are grateful to Andrew Turner for the strong representations he made to the Government on behalf of the Isle of Wight community.
“We look forward to his continuing support as the Government works through the details of its proposals and await the outcome with interest.”
Mr Turner commented:
“The idea that mainland firms would be able to provide as comprehensive a service on the Island as local firms was clearly wrong. In the interests of justice those accused of a crime need access at the right time to high quality legal advice, so I am pleased I was able to convince the Government that the Island must be treated as a special case. I also welcomed some other aspects of the announcement, including abolishing legal aid to prisoners for frivolous complaints, for example that they do not like the prison they have been placed in. Taxpayers on the Island and elsewhere should not have to pay lawyers to deal with such rubbish.”