New duty solicitor rota illustrates decline of criminal legal aid

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has today announced which criminal law firms will provide legal advice to people brought in for questioning in police stations via the duty solicitor rotas for October 2022, with the number of solicitors falling by 9.4% and the number of firms falling by 5.4% compared to the current duty rota.

“This is a make-or-break year for the future of the beleaguered criminal justice system,” said Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“We will have to wait for the January rota to see the final picture, but it seems clear that the numbers of firms and duty solicitors are not increasing as we would expect after a new tender.

“This is further evidence that solicitors increasingly see no future in criminal defence work, following the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) failure to implement Lord Bellamy QC’s recommended fee increases.

“We are continuing to see the decline of the criminal defence profession and even more duty schemes across the country are reaching the point of collapse. There is no significant body of new firms looking to enter or expand into this market.

“Despite some promised increases in legal aid rates by the MoJ, the decline in the number of firms and solicitors in this area of work appears to be deepening.”

The number of firms doing criminal defence work has roughly halved in the last 15 years. As of February 2022, there were just 1,062 firms holding a criminal legal aid contract compared with 2,010 in October 2007.

A Law Society survey found only 4% of duty solicitors are aged under 35, and 81% of junior lawyers stated that criminal law is not an attractive long-term career.*

Many defence solicitors are crossing the courtroom to the Crown Prosecution Service or switching to other areas of the law for better pay and conditions.

I. Stephanie Boyce added: “This all reinforces the urgent need for the MoJ to give solicitors the 15% fee increase recommended by Lord Bellamy in the independent review of criminal legal aid.

“A statutory instrument laid in parliament in July confirmed solicitors will start receiving the long-fought for increases in criminal legal aid rates from the end of September.

“However, the overall package still only amounts to a 9% increase, which simply isn’t enough to turn the tide of solicitors and firms leaving criminal defence work.

“Defence lawyers are needed more than ever to help tackle the huge backlog of Crown Court cases, which is causing unacceptable delays for victims, witnesses and defendants.”

Notes to editors

There are 3,825 solicitors on the October 2022 to January 2023 rota, compared to 4,222 in the April 2022 to October 2022 rota.

There are 964 firms on the October 2022 to January 2023 rota, compared to 1,019 in the April 2022 to October 2022 rota.

Read the duty solicitor rota for 1 October 2022 to 2 January 2023

The October rota will be the first time the LAA has allocated work to criminal legal aid firms under the new 2022 Standard Crime Contract

The 2022 Standard Crime Contract is the contract between the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) and providers of face-to-face criminal legal aid in England and Wales. It will be effective from 1 October 2022, for a period of one year.

The LAA can extend firms’ contracts up to one year each for a maximum of three years.

* Read the Law Society’s survey results

See our duty solicitor heatmaps

UK government statistics have shown:

  • In 2010 there were 1,688 criminal legal aid firms
  • In 2019 there were 1,194
  • In April 2020 there were 1,154
  • In April 2021 there were 1,090

The latest figures show there were 1,058 firms holding a criminal legal aid contract, compared with 2,010 in October 2007.

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