The future must be clearer for criminal law firms' legal aid contracts

News the UK government has unveiled its plans for criminal legal aid contracts for 2022 prompted the Law Society of England and Wales to issue a caution that law firms need more long-term certainty so they can plan for the future.

The 2017 Standard Crime Contract – which is the contract between the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) and providers of face-to-face criminal legal aid in England and Wales – will come to an end on 30 September 2022.

The 2022 contract will span the period of time between the end of the current contract and the point at which it’s possible to tender a contract based on the outcome of Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid (ICLAR).

It will run initially for one year and will be able to be extended further in increments of up to one year to a maximum term of three years.

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “While we appreciate the need for flexibility, having a series of one-year contracts makes any future planning extremely difficult for firms.

“Financial commitments such as leases generally require a commitment of far longer than one year. There also remains a lack of clarity as to how any changes that may arise from the ICLAR will be incorporated into the contract.

“We understand the LAA’s difficulty in knowing precisely what may arise from the review, as the ICLAR report has not yet been published, however we would have concerns if crime practitioners had to wait until late 2022 or even 2024 before they could benefit from any changes.

“Given the absence of any increase to fees for over 20 years, any relief that may arise from ICLAR is urgently needed.

“However, we welcome the opportunity this gives for new firms to enter the market, as there has been a worrying decline in the number of firms providing criminal legal aid in recent years.

“We hope that the LAA will consider making amendments to the contract without needing to hold a full tender, in the event that any changes proposed would have a positive impact on practitioners.”

Notes to editors

UK government statistics have shown that:

  • in 2010 there were 1,861 criminal legal aid firms
  • in 2019 there were 1,271
  • in June 2020 there were 1,147, and
  • the latest figures published in April 2021 show 1,090 firms

This indicates that 5% of firms have dropped out of the market since June 2020, on top of the near 40% drop in the preceding 10 years.

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Press office contact: Naomi Jeffreys | 020 8049 3928

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