Drop in the ocean funding will not safeguard future of criminal legal aid

Substantial investment is needed to safeguard the future of the criminal legal aid system, the Law Society of England and Wales has warned in its response to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ’s) consultation on police station and Youth Court fees.

“The injection of £16 million into police station and Youth Court work will be a small, though welcome, boost for those who will benefit from the fee increase,” said Law Society president Nick Emmerson.

“However, it is a drop in the ocean with respect to what is needed to create a sustainable future for criminal legal aid.

“In spite of this investment and as the UK government has acknowledged, criminal legal aid solicitors are still receiving much less than the overall 15% increase recommended by the Bellamy Report in 2021.

“The High Court noted in its judgment of the Society’s judicial review that ‘the system is slowly coming apart at the seams’. Unless ‘there are significant injections of funding in the relatively near future, any prediction along the lines that the system will arrive in due course at a point of collapse is not overly pessimistic.’”

“Additional investment and a more radical overhaul of the payment structure will be needed sooner rather than later to address the recruitment, retention and sustainability crisis in criminal legal aid.”

Police station fees

Nick added: “While the increase in police station fees is welcome, it’s not enough to make this critical work that solicitors do sustainable.”

“The Bellamy Report recommended a standard fee scheme, which we support as it would ensure there is a direct relationship between the amount of work required on a case and the fee paid for that case.

“The Ministry says it cannot implement such a scheme as it doesn’t have accurate data as to how much the work costs.

“We question why no such data has been collected since the report in 2021. Amongst our members there is a perception that there is no real commitment from government to implement the reforms despite assurances to the contrary.”

Youth Court fees

Nick said: “We strongly support the creation of a payment structure that rewards and incentivises practitioners in respect of youth work.

“We urge further discussions with practitioners to consider how the fees for this work should be structured to ensure that the expertise required is appropriately remunerated.”

Prison law

“No reasonable explanation has been given for the wholesale rejection of an increase in prison law fees despite the alarming decline in prison law legal aid providers,” Nick added.

“Unless a substantial increase is made to prison law fees, there is likely to be a complete collapse in provision.”

Notes to editors

• Contact the Press Office for a copy of our full consultation response.

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Nick Mayo | 020 8049 4100

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