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Legal Aid cutbacks likely to have negative impact on the diversity of the legal profession.

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Female practitioners and those from ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented in certain areas of the profession. A much higher proportion of female and Black and Minority Ethnic ("BME") practitioners are represented in criminal and family legal aid practice, which are two areas facing the brunt of the proposed cuts under the Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. Entry to the profession is being compromised, experienced practitioners are leaving this field of work and many law firms face the prospect of having to close due to facing a potentially unprofitable business model. There will inevitably be a reduction in the number of lawyers practising in these areas, resulting in a disproportionate reduction in the number of female and BME practitioners in the whole legal profession. This will also have the longer term impact of reducing the diversity of the judiciary. This potential impact on the profession is not just concerning on a superficial level but, as the Bar Council notes, it flies in the face of a number of statutory objectives. The Legal Services Act 2007 creates a regulatory objective of 'encouraging an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession'. Similarly, the Bar Council note that 'where the impact is negative with no objective justification or if the impact assessment was non‐existent or inadequate, the proposal could also undermine the second regulatory objective which is "to support the constitutional principle of the rule of law" (LSA 2007 Section 1(1)(b)) in that the proposal itself may be unlawful'. Furthermore, limiting the diversity of the judiciary fails to fulfil the rule of law objective and ensure the public interest is promoted, under sections 1(1)(a) and (b) of the LSA 2007. The concern over the future of the judiciary is echoed by Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice: "If we cannot attract young men and women of real talent into doing criminal and family work on the basis of what is available on legal aid, we shall lose a significant part of the practising Bar, which is from minority ethnic backgrounds and women. If we lose them or don't collect them, in 20 years' time the Judicial Appointments Commission will have fewer applicants from these backgrounds than they have at present, which will in its turn stultify the progress towards a more diverse judiciary". For more information please complete our Enquiry Form contact us on 01245 493939 or mail@gepp.co.uk The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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