A major restructuring of the criminal legal aid system in England and Wales has been scrapped, Justice Secretary Michael Gove has confirmed.
Mr Gove said he had “decided not to go ahead” with plans to cut duty solicitor contracts at police stations and magistrates’ courts by two thirds.
He also suspended for 12 months a second 8.75% cut in legal aid fees.
Labour shadow justice secretary Lord Falconer said the government’s plans had “descended into utter chaos”.
The proposed cuts – drawn up by former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling – would have reduced the number of legal aid contracts from 1,600 to 527.
However, Mr Gove said there were “real problems” in pressing ahead with the proposals.
The Ministry of Justice currently faces 99 separate legal challenges, Mr Gove said in a written ministerial statement.
“My decision is driven in part by the recognition that the litigation will be time-consuming and costly for all parties, whatever the outcome,” he said.
“I do not want my department and the legal aid market to face months if not years of continuing uncertainty, and expensive litigation, while it is heard.”
BBC legal correspondent Clive Coleman said the decision was “another reversal of a Chris Grayling policy” by Mr Gove.
Mr Gove has already eased restrictions on the access to books for prisoners and reversed previously planned cuts to barristers’ fees.
Solicitors’ associations had opposed the reforms to legal aid, warning the so-called “dual contracting” system and cutting the number of contracts would lead to inadequate access to legal advice for defendants.
A legal challenge to the reforms was heard in the High Court last year – ruling in the government’s favour.
However, Lord Falconer said the Ministry of Justice had been told the policy “would be a disaster”.
“This is a staggering admission from the Tory government and represents a final confirmation that their plans to reform criminal legal aid have descended into utter chaos.
“The government must now come clean about how much public money has been wasted on this doomed endeavour, so that ministers can be held fully accountable for this fiasco.”
Mark Fenhalls QC, from the Criminal Bar Association said it had been the right decision to abandon the “flawed plans”.