LETTERS:High price of legal procedure

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The Independent Online
From Mr Adrian A. S. Zuckerman Sir: The President of the Law Society and others (Letters, 14 January) took objection to your leader (12 January) in which you welcomed the Lord Chancellor's decision to limit legal aid funding, as ending "this legal pork barrel". While it is true, as your correspondents point out, that solicitors would now find it difficult to make ends meet, this state of affairs is the result of the practices pursued by the profession in the past.

Lawyers follow procedures largely devised by themselves. These procedures have developed with little concern for cost. Until relatively recently, Queen's Counsel was not allowed to appear in court without junior counsel at his elbow. And even now a barrister pleading in the High Court must have a solicitor sitting behind him, regardless of whether the latter has anything to contribute. Litigation procedures have become lengthy, complex and costly because lawyers have had an incentive to make them so; they are paid on an hourly basis regardless of success.

When lawyers are faced with cash limits while still expected to operate a cumbersome system needing large injections of cash, it is inevitable that they, and indeed their clients, should experience great difficulty. But is it right to blame the Treasury?

Should not the legal profession respond by pressing for procedures that are commensurate with what the country and clients can afford? After all, the £1.3bn that the taxpayer still contributes towards legal aid is not negligible.

Yours faithfully, ADRIAN ZUCKERMAN University College Oxford

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