Legal aid investment welcome first step to repair criminal justice system
The first substantial cash injection into criminal legal aid for 25 years is a welcome first step to repair the beleaguered criminal justice system and ensure timely access to justice for victims and defendants, says the Law Society of England and Wales.
The UK government today (15 March) published its response to Sir Christopher Bellamy’s Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid and launched a consultation on proposed changes to the system.
“After decades of decline, it’s a welcome relief to see the government commit to increase legal aid rates by the 15% that Sir Christopher Bellamy recommended – including for magistrates’ court and police station work,” said Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce.
“The Law Society and many others have been calling for investment for many years, and finally our concerns are being heard. This investment represents a welcome first step towards repairing our criminal justice system and ensuring defence solicitors are available when any of us may need them.
“As the HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary has said ‘the system of criminal defence is essential to justice’ and the ‘state of the legal aid system imperils justice’.
“Twenty-five years of real-terms cuts have seen the number of criminal legal aid firms almost halved since 2007 and our heatmaps show that duty solicitor are ageing and increasingly scarce in some parts of the country.
“Victims and defendants are facing unacceptable delays in accessing justice – with their lives put on hold for two years or more while they wait for their case to go through the courts – and this dire situation will not improve if there are not enough defence lawyers to cover the cases.
“It is disappointing that the fee increases will be delayed for a few months more after so many years of waiting and it remains to be seen whether the investment will be enough to halt the exodus from criminal defence work, but we hope this injection of cash can begin to turn the tide.
“The proposed changes to fee structures are also welcome, as they should ensure that the fees paid better reflect the work required on cases.
“We are keen to work with government to ensure the funding increases are implemented swiftly.
“There are potential benefits to having an advisory board representing all the different parts of the criminal justice system and looking at issues in the round and we look forward to working with the Ministry of Justice on the detail.”
Notes to editors
As of February 2022, there were just 1,062 firms holding a criminal legal aid contract compared with 2,010 in October 2007.
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Press office contact: Nick Mayo | 020 8049 4100