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Royal Commission on Criminal Justice: Rebuke over legal aid cuts

LORD MACKAY of Clashfern, the Lord Chancellor, is implicitly rebuked by the Royal Commission over his recent moves to cut the spiralling cost of legal aid, writes Adam Sage.

Measures to replace hourly rates for criminal work in magistrates' courts with a system of standard fees are highlighted as a matter of concern. The report echoes the arguments of the Law Society that lawyers could be under pressure to cut corners. There was a risk that standard fees 'may be a disincentive to solicitors to do the amount of work on a case that it requires', it says.

It also questions recent moves to limit eligibility for legal aid, saying: 'We would . . . be very seriously concerned if the Government's proposals were to have the effect of increasing the number of defendants who have no legal representation in court.'

The cutbacks were announced by Lord Mackay last November in an attempt to curb a legal-aid budget that was set to double to more than pounds 2bn by the mid-Nineties.

Solicitors are likely to point out that if the commission's call for a reduction in the number of Crown Court hearings is supported by the Government, this would serve to save substantial sums of the money.