Solicitors lose battle over payment of fees

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THE PATH was clear last night for the Government to introduce bitterly contested alterations to the way solicitors are paid, after the High Court rejected an attempt by the Law Society to challenge the new system, writes Adam Sage.

Lord Justice Leggatt and Mr Justice McCullough had been asked to rule that the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, acted illegally and irrationally when he proposed changes to the system of payments for legal aid work in magistrates' courts.

But the judges dismissed the solicitors' arguments, adding: 'The Law Society will no doubt take stock of the wisdom of continuing this challenge - they might do better to see how the amended scheme works and then press for such changes as are required by justice.'

Afterwards, the Lord Chancellor's Department said that the changes would be introduced at the start of next month.

However, even if the Law Society takes Lord Justice Leggatt's advice and decides against appealing, Lord Mackay can still expect to find himself in court again soon. Solicitors are also seeking a judicial review of the Government's plans to cut back on eligibility for legal aid.

Yesterday's judgment hinged on the Law Society's argument that the new system of standard fees, replacing the traditional hourly rate, was illegal because lawyers would lose out in some cases, although they would gain in others.