LEGAL MATTERS: Legal Aid Reform Will Nip Lengthy Trials in the Bud

Article excerpt

Criminal trials are set to be dramatically curtailed by major changes to the way lawyers are paid from the public purse, the Lord Chancellor announced yesterday.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton QC revealed a new programme of legal aid reform which he said would put an end to long-running trials in England and Wales.

Instead of securing virtually open-ended legal aid agreements, lawyers in criminal trials will be expected to submit bids to win contracts.

If a case lasts longer than expected, the lawyers - rather than the taxpayer - will be obliged to pick up the costs, said Lord Falconer.

Trials will also be made quicker and more efficient by making prosecution and defence teams agree far more areas of a case before going to court, he said.

'The days of the 18-month trial are over,' said the Lord Chancellor.

Most cases should not last longer than 'a few months at the very, very most,' he said.

The changes - due to be detailed in a new strategy document today - are designed to reduce the amount spent on criminal legal aid so more can be spent on civil cases, such as money disputes, and family hearings such as divorce Lord Falconer said the legal aid budget had risen from pounds 1. …