BONALLACK & BISHOP SOLICITORS PRESS RELEASE
Local solicitor slams proposed legal aid cuts
Salisbury Lawyer Tim Bishop slammed the government proposals changes in legal aid on last Sunday's edition of BBC's flagship current affairs programme "The Politics Show". Tim, senior partner with Bonallack and Bishop, in a lengthy live interview, said current government plans to substantially reduce payments made to solicitors whilst at the same time demanding considerably more work from them could have catastrophic results. "It is becoming increasingly hard to find solicitors willing to act for clients under the legal aid scheme. There are already a large number of "advice deserts” such as Romsey and Fordingbridge, where you simply cannot find a legal aid solicitor. My own firm and Pye-Smiths, whom we merged with two years ago, were the two largest providers of legal aid family work in Salisbury. We have already significantly reduced and our family lawyers now plan to give up legal aid entirely by the end of this year in the Salisbury office and by the end of 2008 in our Amesbury and Andover offices. This runs alongside a simultaneous significant increase in the amount of private client and business work that we undertake. Three years ago there were five Solicitors in Salisbury offering legal aid. By the end of this year there will only be two ".
"It is not that solicitors are greedy but that the new proposed rates are simply unprofitable," continued Tim. "As a highly experienced childcare lawyer, I'm threatened with having my income reduced by up to 50% whilst the cost of running my solicitors practice including staff, remain the same. It's an impossible business proposition which no sane person could accept. If the new rates come in at all close to the existing government proposals, I will give up my legal aid childcare practice immediately to concentrate full-time on managing my firm and developing my business consultancy work. "
"The government claim that they are determined to combat social exclusion and that provision of publicly funded legal services to the needy and vulnerable an essential part of that. This commitment is clearly paper thin. Solicitors have for many years effectively used their other profitable work to subsidise legal aid. The new proposed rates will simply lead to many more solicitors, including Bonallack and Bishop, giving up huge areas of legal aid work. Other firms who are unable to replace legal aid with private clients will simply go out of business and I predict the entire legal aid system is likely to collapse within the next few years. It is proving a similar pattern to the government mishandling of NHS dentists a few years ago."
Tim concluded "After years of pouring taxpayers money into public expenditure, the government now realises it has to make substantial savings and have identified legal aid lawyers and clients as a soft target. With a vastly decreasing number of lawyers willing to do legal aid work, and with many the best legal aid lawyers threatening to pull out, it will inevitably lead to injustice and harm to the very vulnerable people the government claim to care about, and will significantly heighten pressure on the resources of both the police and the courts as they have to deal with increasing numbers of unrepresented clients. "
A government spokesperson was invited to take part in, or to contribute to the programme, but declined the opportunity.
On a similar note Thursday 15th and Friday 16th February also saw an unprecedented show of industrial action up and down the country by criminal lawyers in protest to the proposed cuts. As part of the concerted protest among crime lawyers throughout Wiltshire and nationwide Salisbury Magistrates Court saw Salisbury solicitors, apart from the duty solicitor, refusing to represent clients in court on Thursday and Friday or attend interviews at the police station.