Another week of speculation, rumour and unease has passed without an announcement from the government on legal aid reform. The most that they have said publicly is “shortly”, by the Leader of the House in the Commons yesterday, but Sound off for Justice believe it will be next week. We shall see. LAG speculates that the ground has been laid by the release of the highest legal aid earners list, and rightly goes on to point out that they are in no way typical of the earnings of legal aid practitioners. One consequence of the coalition government’s drive towards openness is that all government departments now publish every transaction over £25,000, and therefore for the first time there is regularly updated information in the public domain showing what payments are made from the legal aid fund, to the larger providers at least.
The very largest providers, those taking over £2million from the legal aid fund, were invited to meetings in London and Sheffield last month. Those meetings caused considerable controversy among those not invited and the representative bodies (and were also the source of Carolyn Downs’s reported remarks predicting that the legal aid reforms would be affected by the sentencing row, thankfully since denied by Ken Clarke). The LSC has now published on its website its version of proceedings, along with the slides of presentations various officials made. Seemingly as a direct result of the row, it has also resurrected Provider Reference Groups, and providers have begun receiving invitations to meetings over the summer. Details are available on the LSC website.