You have a duty, protesting lawyers urged

Stock views of Preston- Crown Court.  PIC BY ROB LOCK'29-1-2015
Stock views of Preston- Crown Court. PIC BY ROB LOCK'29-1-2015
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Lawyers taking action over planned cuts to Legal Aid have been warned to remember their “duty” to clients.

Law firms across the UK – including in Lancashire – are set to boycott Crown Court Legal Aid work as part of a national protest against government cuts.

Vincents solicitors this week became the latest firm to announce action. It said it wanted to highlight the chaos further cutbacks could cause.

Law firms say they try to provide a 24/7 service to defendants yet the money to pay for that service continues to be reduced.

In London, the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority has written to legal firms involved in action over Legal Aid to remind them of their professional standards. Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said: “We recognise that this is a difficult commercial dispute. However, our role is to ensure those we regulate uphold their professional obligations even during difficult times—in fact it is exactly when under pressure that the risks to clients become most serious.

“If a solicitor is approached for legal advice or assistance, they should take reasonable efforts to help that person to obtain the assistance they need, whether or not the solicitor is in a position themselves to take on the matter, or has an existing duty to them as a client.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman told the Evening Post: “The changes we are making to criminal legal aid are designed to deliver value for money to taxpayers and do not impact on the availability of high quality legal advice to those who need it most.

“ Although we recognise that the transition will be challenging for lawyers, these changes will put the profession on a sustainable footing for the long term.”