Our response to the Ministry of Justice’s Crime Lower Consultation

We’ve responded to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ’s) Crime Lower Consultation. This consultation follows on from the government’s response to the Criminal Legal Aid Independent Review (CLAIR) consultation in November 2022.

The consultation asks questions on:

  • police station funding and structure proposals
  • pre-charge engagement
  • youth court
  • prison law and criminal cases review commission work

Our view

In our response, we make clear that substantial investment is needed to safeguard the future of the criminal legal aid system.

We recognise that the injection of £16 million into police station and youth court work will be a welcome boost – albeit a small one – for those who will benefit from the fee increase.

However, it is significantly below the level of investment needed to create a sustainable future for criminal legal aid.

Inflation has been running at higher levels in the UK than anywhere else in Europe.

This has had a significant impact on the ability of legal aid firms to cover costs, let alone make any sort of profit from lower crime work.

The level of the proposed increase in the consultation paper on individual police station fees is in most cases not sufficient to address the recruitment, retention, and sustainability issues raised in the 2021 Criminal Legal Aid Independent Review (CLAIR).

Recommendations from CLAIR report

We also note with disappointment that several recommendations in the CLAIR report have either been rejected or not progressed.

These include, but are not limited to, the recommendation that prison law fees should be subject to an increase and the move to a standard fee scheme in the police station.

No evidence-based explanation has been given for the wholesale rejection of an increase in prison law fees despite the rapid decline of approximately 85% in prison law providers in the last decade.

In particular, no consideration appears to have been given to the beneficial role that improved prison law services could play in ensuring prisoners are released when it is safe and appropriate to do so, thus alleviating the current crisis in prisoner numbers.

Standard fee scheme

We are also concerned about the lack of progress of the standard fee scheme.

The purpose of the standard fee scheme is to ensure there is a direct relationship between the amount of work required on a case, and the fee paid for that case.

This is a crucial step towards creating a sustainable funding system. Retaining the fixed fee model means that no progress has been made towards this vitally necessary goal.

In our response, we have questioned why reported issues around data have halted progress. Further, we are concerned that there is a reluctance to commission the data needed to create the scheme.