WARNINGS have been made that proposed government cuts to the legal aid system will hit the most vulnerable members of society the hardest.
The government is looking to change the current legal aid system in moves it says will cut £220m from its budget.
But opposition is building as law firms across the country say it will have a devastating effect on those who need it most. One of the biggest changes proposed in the shake-up is that anyone arrested will no longer be able to choose their solicitor.
And there will only be nine contracts across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to provide this service. There are currently about 40 firms which do this across the county.
Daniel Reilly, barrister for TBJ Solicitors in Fareham, said: ‘The government is proposing to take away the right of a person charged with a criminal offence to choose their own legal representative.
‘The government wants to sell off the work, simply, to whoever will be the cheapest provider. It’s going to be horrific. We build up relationships with clients and know their backgrounds. That will all be lost.’
The small law firms are worried that large firms will hoover up the contracts – haulage giants Eddie Stobart is one of the more unusual names to have already thrown its hat into the ring.
Mr Reilly added: ‘These proposals may well end up costing the government more money.
‘Three years down the line at the end of these initial contracts, when they have to put them out to tender again, when there are no high street businesses left the government will be at the mercy of the big businesses who are only interested in pleasing their shareholders.
‘We will end up with a second-rate justice system.
‘The people most affected will be the most vulnerable members of society.’
More than 94,000 people have so far signed an online petition asking government to drop its plans for legal aid at epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628