Criminal duty solicitors: a looming crisis

The Law Society has published new data which shows a looming crisis in the numbers of criminal duty solicitors. This could leave many individuals unable to access their right to a solicitor and free advice.

Criminal duty solicitors graphic

Criminal duty solicitors offer a vital public service. Any individual detained by the police has a right to a solicitor and advice free of charge. This is the case at any time of day, and regardless of wealth, age or nationality.

The mean average age of a criminal duty solicitor across the whole of England and Wales is now 47, and in many regions the average age is even higher.

Is your area facing a future shortage? Look at our interactive heatmap to find out:

Click to expand the map

Data source: Law Society analysis of the LAA Duty Solicitor Scheme data, cross referenced with the Law Society’s Criminal Litigator Accreditation Scheme membership data from 2017-2018. Please note - there is no data available in map for Rutland.

How to use: Click and drag your cursor to move. Use your scroll-button or the zoom buttons to zoom in and out. Enable full-screen with the full-screen button. Only select one data option at a time.  

The data highlights that in 5 to 10 years’ time there could be insufficient criminal duty solicitors in many regions, leaving individuals in need of legal advice unable to access justice.

This could have a catastrophic effect on the criminal justice system, as members of the profession retire and leave a shortage of experienced practitioners, impacting on access to justice and on valuable police time.

Currently, some areas are particularly badly affected:

  • In Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, West Wales, Mid Wales, over 60 per cent of the solicitors are aged over 50.
  • In Norfolk, Suffolk, Cornwall and Worcestershire there are 0 criminal law solicitors aged under 35, with only 1 in West Wales and Mid Wales, and only 2 in Devon.
  • In a significant number of regions less than 10 per cent of solicitors in this field are under 35.

One explanation for these shortages is because criminal defence solicitors have received no fee increase since 1998. Combined with other cuts to the system, many lawyers no longer see a viable career doing this work, and it is difficult to attract and retain new members of the profession.

We are therefore calling on Government to conduct an economic review of the long-term viability of the criminal legal aid system and to guarantee that criminal legal aid fees will rise with inflation.

Write to your MP about the looming crisis

It takes just two minutes to write to your MP to call on them to urge the government to take urgent action to resolve the growing crisis in the numbers of criminal duty solicitors.

Write to your MP using our online submission form

Progress so far

The Law Society has been hard at work to raise the concerns of our members on the sustainability of the criminal justice system at the highest possible level. Our work in this area includes:

  • Challenging the government over changes to the Litigator's Graduated Fees Scheme (LGFS) in the High Court
  • Giving oral evidence to the Justice Select Committee on criminal legal aid and the disclosure of evidence in criminal cases
  • Engaging with the Ministry of Justice's LASPO review
  • Supporting members of parliament to table written and oral questions and providing briefings to them ahead of key debates.

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