'Further cuts to legal aid undermine British justice'
The Ministry of Justice has announced changes that undermine the fundamental duty of the government to fund access to justice for anyone accused of wrongdoing.
Total cuts to criminal legal aid now amount to £320m, close to one third of the total budget.
The changes announced today include:
- further fee cuts of 8.75 per cent for solicitors representing those accused of wrongdoing
- number of contracts for solicitors providing 24-hour cover at police stations in local communities reduced to 527 from 1,600, which could leave people without representation
Law Society president Andrew Caplen reacted with dismay:
'We are deeply concerned not only for the immediate future of the justice system, but for its continued survival in years to come.
'The administration of justice is a fundamental duty of government and access to justice is an essential part of that responsibility. The British value of a fair trial, enshrined in 800 years of Magna Carta, has been built on the foundation that the innocent are acquitted and convictions are sound.
'Criminal legal aid solicitors are critical for ensuring that anyone accused of wrongdoing has a fair trial and yet few young lawyers see a future in this work, which is of extreme concern.*
'Our criminal justice system is one of the most cost effective in Western Europe and has been the envy of the world. The consequences of these changes are serious. The government's cuts could undermine the criminal justice system to the point that it may no longer deliver fair outcomes.'
Andrew Caplen explained:
'Twenty years without any increase in fees, followed by two sets of cuts since 2010, had already pushed firms' viability to breaking point. Now many solicitors practices undertaking this vital work in communities around the country will be forced to close. Others will struggle to survive as a result of this further 8.75 per cent cut in fees.'
'We have shared evidence with the Ministry of Justice from over 120 firms who are already suffering as a result of the previous round of cuts. The evidence shows that firms are on the edge of financial viability, and these cuts are likely to lead to bankruptcies, firms leaving the market, redundancies and a real impact on the quality of service. We called for the government urgently to review this evidence, and to avoid making these further drastic cuts. We are writing to the lord chancellor to convey our disappointment and to raise our serious concerns, and to urge him to think again.'
Notes to editors
The Law Society of England and Wales is the independent professional body, established for solicitors in 1825, that works globally to support and represent its members, promoting the highest professional standards and the rule of law.
* Extensive research undertaken by the Law Society's Junior Lawyers Division
Law Society press office: 0207 320 5902