CONTROVERSIAL legal aid reforms will sound the death knell of local law firms and reduce client choice about who speaks for them, according to a Worcester solicitor.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is leading calls to reduce the cost to taxpayers of legal aid.

He claims public cash is being used “to pay for frivolous claims, to foot the legal bills of wealthy criminals, and to cover cases which run on and on, racking up large fees for a small number of lawyers, far in excess of what senior public servants are paid” in a new plan.

In the existing financial climate, he said it was necessary to make savings and to restore public confidence in the justice system. The consultation refers to a model of competitive tendering for criminal litigation, whereby solicitors’ firms must compete to offer the best price for work in their local area, saving £220 million per year by 2018/19, if implemented.

However, Gary Harper, a solicitor and partner at Hamer Childs in the Tything, Worcester, said there would only be nine local contracts offered in West Mercia and Warwickshire, meaning that smaller firms would suffer in favour of larger, out-of-town companies.

He believes clients will have less choice over who represents them and legal representation will be poorer because out-of-town solicitors’ lack of specialist knowledge of personal circumstances of each client which allows more effective mitigation.

Mr Harper, a 48-year-old father of two, said: “There’s only going to be nine contracts and anybody can bid from anywhere, including big firms. “We know that people from outside Worcestershire are going to bid. It is not at all apparent that any of us will survive. The majority of solicitors who handle crime are very much committed to the city of Worcester and its people. Anyone from outside isn’t going to have that commitment and know the people. Clients just aren’t going to have the choice about who their solicitor is going to be.” Mr Harper believes people choose their solicitor carefully and take an active interest in who speaks out for them, building up a relationship. He said: “People soon realise when they’re not well represented. When people are not being well represented they tend to vote with their feet. I don’t believe the family firms can survive this. “People feel they have given the best years of their lives to this. Their reward is the dole queue.”

Anyone wishing to respond to the Government’s consultation can e-mail responses to, or by post to Annette Cowell, Legal Aid Reform, Ministry of Justice, 102 Petty France, London, SW1H 9AJ.