Criminal duty solicitors: a looming crisis

In 2018, we published data which showed 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. We will shortly publish updated figures that will show the latest criminal duty solicitor numbers.

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 in 2018 was 47, and in many regions the average age was 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 Legal Aid Agency (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 five 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.

Some areas are particularly badly affected:

  • in Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, West Wales, Mid Wales, over 60% of solicitors are aged over 50
  • in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cornwall and Worcestershire there are 0 criminal law solicitors aged under 35, with only one in West Wales and Mid Wales, and only two in Devon
  • in a significant number of regions less than 10% 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. 

Progress so far

We've 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:

  • responding to the independent criminal legal aid review, flagging the reduced number of duty solicitors
  • raising concerns in our response to the independent review on criminal legal aid
  • 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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