Criminal legal aid review

The government must rethink its irrational decision on criminal legal aid funding before the system collapses, following our judicial review victory in the High Court.
Law Society wins High Court battle on criminal legal aid

The High Court has ruled in the Law Society’s favour in our judicial review against the Ministry of Justice.

Evidence from our members showed “the system is slowly coming apart at the seams”. Now, the government must rethink its irrational decision on criminal legal aid funding before the system collapses.

Read more about our judicial review victory

Why does criminal legal aid need reform?

Everyone has the right to legal advice if they are arrested, free of charge. But that right is under threat without enough duty solicitors to cover police station interviews across England and Wales.

Fewer and fewer duty solicitors are available to help due to cuts to legal aid fees. Before the review, there had been no meaningful increase in criminal legal aid rates of pay in 25 years.

Many legal aid lawyers have been driven out of criminal defence work because it’s no longer financially viable.

More than 1,400 duty solicitors have left since 2017 – a 26% drop.

Find out why duty solicitors are struggling

Why we took the Ministry of Justice to court over criminal legal aid funding

After years of under-funding, the independent review of criminal legal aid was an opportunity for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to make sure our justice system works for everyone in society for years to come.

A minimum lifeline of a 15% funding uplift was the key recommendation to keep our struggling criminal legal aid system running.

But under Dominic Raab, the MoJ chose to ignore this recommendation in the final response to the review.

Instead, solicitors are set to receive a 9% increase to criminal legal aid funding in 2022 and a further 2% by 2024. This is a real-terms cut to legal aid rates.

In December 2023, our judicial review shone a spotlight on the decision-making process in the MoJ under Dominic Raab, and why it ignored the minimum recommendations for a justice system that works for everyone.

The High Court ruled in our favour on the grounds that the government’s decision was irrational and that the Lord Chancellor did not make proper enquiries before making his decision.

Now, we urge the current lord chancellor, Alex Chalk, to rethink the decision on criminal legal aid funding before the system collapses.

We are keen to work with the government to help take the necessary steps to safeguard the future of this crucial profession.

Find out more about our judicial review

What is changing for solicitors and firms

An initial increase to criminal legal aid fees came into force from 30 September 2022. This included work in:

  • magistrates’ court
  • police stations

Find out more about the initial increase

Other changes include:

We’re seriously concerned that the proposed funding is not enough to support a criminal defence profession and enable solicitors to uphold justice in England and Wales.

Read our advice for law firms and junior lawyers

Independent advisory board

The Criminal Legal Aid Advisory Board has been set up to:

  • advise the lord chancellor on the operation and structure of existing and future criminal legal aid schemes
  • assess how these schemes should adapt to support a high-performing criminal justice system and the wider objectives of the legal profession

The board is chaired by Her Honour Deborah Taylor, appointed in July 2023.

We’ve long been recommending an independent board, although we had hoped that it would also advise on fees.

As a member of the advisory board, we’re working to make sure that the voices of criminal defence solicitors are heard as the MoJ develops its plans for future changes to the criminal legal aid system.

Pre-charge engagement

Following our lobbying, the government is extending the scope of payment for pre-charge engagement (PCE) on cases that start on or after 1 October 2022.

Solicitors will now be able to claim a fee for the preparatory work undertaken for PCE. Currently this essential early work is excluded.

We welcome this announcement, having long called on the government to ensure solicitors are paid for all of their work advising suspects at this critical early stage in criminal investigations.

Read more on the changes

Get involved: police station fees

The government is consulting on changes to police station and youth court fees until Thursday 28 March 2024. 

Find out more about the government's proposals and share your thoughts

Past stages

We amplify the powerful collective voice of more than 220,000 solicitors by advocating at the highest levels on the issues you’ve told us matter most.

Two-thirds of solicitors believe access to justice has worsened over the past 10 years, citing court delays and the decline in legal aid availability due to underfunding as the main barriers.

We've been raising your concerns about the state of criminal legal aid at the highest levels, both publicly and behind the scenes.

Government consultation on its response to Sir Christopher Bellamy’s independent review
March to June 2022
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We responded to government consultations on both criminal legal aid and the means test, stressing why it’s vital that the whole sector receives proper and sustainable funding

Our head of justice, Richard Miller, put your questions on the proposals to justice minister James Cartlidge

President I. Stephanie Boyce gave evidence on the crisis to the Justice Select Committee in Parliament

 

Independent review chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy
January to December 2021
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The independent review has proposed a 15% pay increase for criminal legal aid solicitors, following sustained campaigning from the Law Society on behalf of our members. 

We continue to press the Ministry of Justice to get the money to our members as soon as possible.

 

We responded to the independent criminal legal aid review (ICLAR) call for evidence, warning that the criminal defence profession could collapse if the government does not increase funding. 

The MoJ Criminal Legal Aid Review (CLAR) team published a data compendium, summarising information on publicly funded legal services.

We worked with the MoJ to combine key datasets, along with the Bar Council, the Legal Aid Agency and the Crown Prosecution Service.

View the data compendium

The MoJ announced that the second phase of the review would be chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy QC, launching in January with a report expected before the end of 2021.

We welcomed the launch of the next stage of the Criminal Legal Aid Review, however we were clear that government support is needed for criminal legal aid firms to survive, in addition to the structural increase in resources needed for the long-term sustainability of the sector.

Read the MoJ press release

Accelerated items
Fast-tracked reforms in 2020 for aspects of fee schemes
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We responded to the MoJ consultation on the fee to be paid to solicitors for ‘pre-charge engagement’ (PCE).

This was the final part of the ‘accelerated items’ brought forward as part of the CLAR.

This could not be included in the consultation earlier in 2020 as the attorney general was consulting on revisions to the Guidelines on Disclosure, which provide the framework for pre-charge engagement. Revised guidelines came into force at the end of 2020.

Read our consultation response (PDF 301 KB)

Read the consultation documents

Read the attorney general’s guidelines (Annex B)

In August 2020, the MoJ published its response to the accelerated items consultation.

The MoJ announced that all of the proposals in the consultation paper would go ahead, except that as a result of representations made in our response, the fee for sent cases would be increased from two hours' work to four hours.

Whilst this represented a small injection of much-needed funds into criminal legal aid, it did not go far enough to begin to address the problems faced by criminal legal aid firms and practitioners, all of which have been worsened by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

Read the MoJ response

The Ministry of Justice closed this consultation on 17 June 2020.

We voiced concerns that the proposals in this consultation undermined the government’s objectives of improving the functioning of the criminal justice system.

We were disappointed to see that the interim proposals do not go far enough to prevent the crisis in the provision of criminal legal aid to those who need it.

Read our full response (PDF 460 KB)

We also submitted a supplementary response (PDF 173KB), raising concerns about:

  • the reduction in the value of the package due to the drop in activity in the system following the coronavirus outbreak
  • the even more urgent need for additional support for legal aid solicitors

We were encouraged that the MoJ was considering accelerating some of the urgent changes required to secure the sustainability of the profession.

However, when the MoJ announced more information, we felt the accelerated items would not do enough to secure the short-term sustainability of the profession.

We published details of our concerns as well as information on how members could help make our voice heard.

We had expected an interim set of announcements in November 2019 as part of the accelerated work in the criminal legal aid review.

Due to the December 2019 general election, announcements could not take place in November 2019 as originally expected.

Alongside our criminal justice campaign, the Law Society and others had fed evidence into the review to ensure that our serious concerns about the sustainability of the criminal justice system were understood.


The MoJ accelerated its review work plan of criminal legal aid fees in key areas we lobbied on.

The Ministry of Justice began its review of criminal legal aid fees, which was due to report at the end of 2020.

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