Criminal justice

Criminal legal aid review

The criminal defence profession is at a make-or-break point. The government is reviewing changes to the criminal legal aid system, but we believe its current proposals are woefully inadequate.

There has been no meaningful increase in criminal legal aid rates of pay in 25 years.

Under current government proposals, solicitors are set to receive a 9% increase to criminal legal aid funding – 40% less than the bare minimum identified as necessary to keep the system going.

This page includes information on:

Current stage: consultation

Between March and June 2022, the UK government held a consultation on its response to Sir Christopher Bellamy’s independent review of criminal legal aid.

The review was designed to find ways to protect the future and long-term sustainability of the criminal legal aid system.

Government proposals include:

  • increasing legal aid rates, including for police station work and magistrates’ court fees
  • changes to fee structures to better reflect the work required on cases
  • setting up an advisory board
  • making training-contract grants available for criminal practitioners

However, 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 response to the consultation

Find out what we’ve been doing to defend criminal legal aid

The consultation closed on 7 June and the government has announced an initial increase to criminal legal aid fees, coming into force from 30 September 2022.

Longer-term proposals, including details on the longer-term funding and structural graduated fees schemes reform, are expected to be published in autumn 2022.

Find out more about the initial increase

Ran from January to December 2021 and chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy

During 2021, an independent review, chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy QC, looked at the fundamental principles of fee schemes for criminal legal aid in the round.

The review published its report on 13 December 2021.

See our breakdown of the key recommendations 

Read the review on GOV.UK

Law Society recommendations

The report echoes several recommendations that we’ve made in the past.

It proposes:

The report supports our view that:

  • work in police stations, magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court should each be broadly sustainable in its own right …. not dependent on undue cross-subsidy from other work streams” (paragraph 7.33)
  • police station work “should be properly rewarded for the time spent when the service is provided”
  • more weighting should be introduced “so that experienced lawyers [are] remunerated for dealing with serious cases”

The report rejects the ideas of:

  • competitive tendering
  • expanding the Public Defender Service – noting that the present system is “sound in concept but suffering from severe underfunding”

Criminal legal aid is not sustainable

In May 2021, we responded to the review's call for evidence, warning that the criminal defence profession could collapse if the government does not increase funding.

Read our full response

Sir Christopher drew together various strands of evidence supporting our view that the criminal justice system is currently not economically sustainable, including that:

  • defence pay rates are 30 to 55% below those considered reasonable by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for committals/trials in the magistrates' court
  • rates are approximately one third less in real terms than they were 13 years ago
  • “structural underfunding of the [criminal justice system] as a whole has made a major contribution to the difficulties” (paragraph 7.13)
  • that it’s unlikely “that the returns available to equity holders will enable this sector to be sustainable for much longer, let alone encourage any further investment” (paragraph 6.63)

The review was supported by an expert and advisory panel, to test and challenge its findings and recommendations. The panel was made up of individuals from a range of backgrounds, skills and experience.

See a list of panel members

Published in February 2021 to give an overview of legal-aid providers

In February 2021, the MoJ Criminal Legal Aid Review (CLAR) team published a data compendium which summarises 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.

The compendium presents a broad overview of the main features of the legal-aid provider base. However, it's likely that more detailed analysis will be carried out in due course.

View the data compendium

Fast-tracked reforms in 2020 for aspects of fee schemes, including pre-charge engagement

After launching the review in March 2019, the government fast-tracked certain aspects of existing fee schemes, in response to our lobbying on urgent changes needed to keep the profession sustainable.

The MoJ carried out two consultations on these accelerated areas, looking at how litigators and/or advocates are paid for work on:

  • unused material
  • paper-heavy cases
  • cracked trials in the Crown Court
  • sending cases to the Crown Court
  • pre-charge engagement

We published our consultation responses on the above in June 2020 and January 2021.

What we're doing

We’ve been making significant efforts to raise your concerns about the state of criminal legal aid at the highest levels, both publicly and behind the scenes.

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

 

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.

Read our response

Read our press release

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

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)

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 our press release

Read the MoJ press release

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 our press release

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.

Resources

Government’s response to Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid

Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid: final report (PDF, 1.09 MB, 165 pages)

Data compendium on legal aid providers

Guidance on the criminal legal aid review on GOV.UK