ISLE of Wight law firms threatened by controversial plans to reform the legal aid system have welcomed a new government move to make the Island a special case.
People on the Island facing criminal court proceedings were having their choice of solicitor restricted by proposals for 'price competitive tendering’, according to a number of criminal law solicitors.
At a meeting with Island MP Andrew Turner, they expressed fears the proposals would lead to a reduction in the number of law firms able to tender for legal aid contracts — therefore restricting their ability to advise people charged with crimes — and they would threaten the viability of some Island law firms.
Lobbying on behalf of Island solicitors, Mr Turner successfully persuaded Chris Grayling, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, to make specific revisions based on the cost and difficulties Islanders would have in accessing mainland law firms.
Criminal law solicitor Eve Taylor, of Newport firm RJR, had mixed feelings about Mr Graylings’s U-turn.
"We are disappointed, though not surprised, the government is continuing to cut criminal legal aid fees," said Miss Taylor.
"We are, however, pleased the Isle of Wight will now be treated as a distinct area rather than being combined with Hampshire.
"We welcome the government’s back-tracking so Island clients will continue to have a choice of criminal defence solicitor, as long as there remains firms able to provide the service on a financially viable basis.
"The Island’s defence solicitors are grateful for the representations made on behalf of the Isle of Wight community.
"We look forward to his continuing support as the government works through details of its proposals. We await the outcome with interest."
Mr Turner echoed Miss Taylor’s sentiments.
"The idea mainland firms would be able to provide as comprehensive a service on the Island as local firms was wrong," said Mr Turner.
"In the interests of justice, those accused of a crime need access to high-quality legal advice at the right time, so I’m pleased the Island is treated as a special case."