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Legal aid: Proposed reforms could be shelved amid stern opposition

Government proposals to reform the legal aid system to introduce competitive tendering to the criminal justice system could be scrapped in the face of massive opposition from lawyers, reports The Daily Mail.

A key government proposal to introduce greater competition into the provision of criminal legal representation under the legal aid system is apparently to be shelved as the Government yields to the weight of substantial opposition from lawyers and campaign groups.

The Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced in April that he was considering plans to overhaul the way criminal legal representation is offered to those who cannot afford to pay for it.

The proposals included a plan to place legal representation from criminal cases out to a competitive tender, effectively awarding work in bulk to the lowest bidder.

Justice campaigners and lawyers reacted angrily to the proposals that would have seen an end to a well-established principle that an accused should be allowed to choose their lawyer, even when they cannot afford to pay for them, to afford them the best possible legal defence.

The Daily Mail revealed last week that bidders for the new contracts for criminal legal representation would include haulage firm 'The Stobart Group' among many others.

The paper reports that the following day the justice secretary contacted leading lawyers to request a meeting, stating that he would like guidance on how to best ensure quality was preserved.

If the plans are dropped, it is thought Mr Grayling will pursue other plans for the legal aid budget.

"Removing the choice of solicitor for clients receiving criminal legal aid was only proposed in order to guarantee lawyers had enough business to make contracts viable," Mr Grayling said in a statement.

"It is clear the profession regards client choice as important and so I expect to make changes that allow a choice of solicitor in the future," he added.