The Government has scrapped plans to award legal aid contracts on price rather than quality after a barrage of criticism from judges, solicitors and human rights groups.
The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, had proposed cutting the number of law firms that could provide legal aid and awarding contracts on the basis of price alone. This led to warnings that criminal suspects on legal aid would suffer from second-class justice with firms more interested in profit than defending their clients.
But today Mr Grayling said the cap on legal aid firms would be lifted and contracts would be assessed on the capabilities of the firms bidding for them. He also scrapped a plan to give defendants no say over who represents them.
However there will be tighter restrictions on eligibility for legal aid. Mr Grayling told the Commons that prisoners and households with more than £3,000 per month of disposable income would no longer be eligible.
Legal aid will also not be granted in 11,000 cases brought to court by prisoners each year, the Ministry of Justice said. Residency tests will also be introduced to ensure only people with strong UK connections receive civil legal aid.
The climbdown seems to have mollified the legal profession who had warned the plans would drive small firms out of business?. But Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said it was wrong to try to cut the deficit by reducing legal aid.