INNOCENT people are pleading guilty to, or being wrongly convicted of, offences because changes to legal aid rules mean they cannot afford a lawyer, Huntingdonshire solicitors believe. Next week, one of only four firms in the district providing criminal legal aid is pulling out ahead of payment changes that it says will have them working for less than £13 an hour. The lawyers' complaints follow a bid by the Legal Services Commission (LSC), which administers legal aid in civil and criminal cases to reduce the cost. As well as changing the means-testing rules, the LSC has given firms until the end of March to sign up to new contracts the lawyers say allow the commission to change the rules unilaterally at seven weeks' notice and introduce block payments for lawyers representing suspects at police stations and in court. The Law Society, which represents solicitors, has asked the commission to delay implementation of the changes, and is threatening to seek judicial review. The commission has countered by saying the new contracts apply only to civil legal aid and, therefore, not a mechanism for implementing changes in criminal legal aid during 2007/08. But David Potter, senior partner at Potter Shelley and Company, in Huntingdon High Street, believes the commission intends to introduce block rates for criminal work in October. By Easter, his company, Copleys, in Huntingdon and St Ives, and Wilkinson and Butler, in St Neots, will be the only solicitors in the district providing criminal legal aid. Serjeant and Son, which has been established in Ramsey for 200 years, is giving up on March 31 in protest. Senior partner John Chrisp said the payment was to be £181 for travelling to a police station and spending up to 14 hours with a client.