JLD campaign: Supporting access to justice

Access to justice for everyone is essential to our society. The iconic status of the Magna Carta, one of the greatest historical commitments to equal access to justice, shows how important this right is.

Many organisations, including the Law Society and the Junior Lawyers Division, are currently fighting hard to ensure this right is maintained.

Legal aid threatened

Over the last 15 years, legal aid has been severely threatened by harsh cuts to its funding, and since 2012:

  • funding has been reduced by about £950m a year
  • the amount of people receiving legal aid has fallen more than 80% 

This has led to high numbers of criminal legal aid defence practitioners moving into other areas of law, leaving the most vulnerable in society representing themselves.

Many criminal defence firms have closed, making it difficult for trainee solicitors to get experience of this type of work. Only 2.9% of trainees take a criminal legal aid defence seat during their training contracts, meaning fewer will then qualify into this practice area.

As the average age of a criminal duty solicitor across England and Wales is 47, clearly junior lawyers are avoiding criminal law altogether.

This is unsurprising, given that the level of debt on qualification from university and the Legal Practice Course (LPC) is at an all-time high. Even salaries at London’s largest criminal legal aid defence firm are only around £24K.

How we’re opposing government cuts

  • The JLD’s executive committee has responded to government consultations on behalf of its members confirming their opposition to previous cuts to legal aid
  • The JLD supports the Young Legal Aid Lawyers’ (YLAL) Save Legal Aid campaign
  • We encourage members to get involved and sign up to the Justice Alliance petition

Criminal Legal Aid Review

In December 2018 the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) began a comprehensive review of criminal legal aid fee schemes (CLAR). Given that fees have not increased since the 1990s, we felt this was long overdue and welcomed the announcement.

The JLD is committed to pushing for the CLAR to focus on fees and the increases required to:

  • stabilise the practice area
  • stop solicitors being driven away
  • make sure the most vulnerable are given the representation they need

Initially the result of the review was expected in summer 2020. However, delays due to both the December 2019 general election and the current COVID-19 pandemic have put this date back.

Once the MoJ has released details of its findings, we’ll make sure the views of junior lawyers have been represented. The JLD will be working closely with YLAL and the Law Society during this process.

How to get involved

Your experiences can help us with our fight to keep the right to access to justice.

If you’re a junior lawyer who’s practising, or has practised, in criminal legal aid defence, we’d like to hear from you. We particularly want to hear your experiences if the lack of funding in legal aid has:

  • affected you and your clients
  • affected the public and society
  • significantly impacted on access to justice

We’d also like to hear from you if you’re thinking of leaving this practice area – or the profession – or have already left.

Contact us at: juniorlawyers@lawsociety.org.uk

We aim to use your stories as evidence to show the MoJ how its cuts are affecting both the profession and society. However, we’ll treat all contributions with strict confidentiality and will not share any accounts without your permission.

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