Fight for the future of the criminal justice system hits the High Court
The fight for the future of the criminal justice system hits the High Court on Tuesday (12 December).
The Law Society of England and Wales launched a judicial review challenge after the government failed to increase criminal defence solicitors’ legal aid rates by the bare minimum 15%, as recommended by the independent review of criminal legal aid.
The Law Society was granted permission on all three of its grounds in June:
- the decision not to implement the key recommendation of the Bellamy review was irrational
- the decision lacked evidence-based reasons
- the decision was in breach of the constitutional right of access to justice
In November, the Law Society was granted permission to add a fourth ground that the lord chancellor made insufficient enquiries as to the state of the criminal legal aid sector before making his decision and afterwards.
“Criminal defence solicitors are the backbone of the criminal justice system, providing crucial early advice to suspects at police stations day and night,” said Law Society president Nick Emmerson.
“They are fundamental to keeping the wheels of justice turning and helping tackle the huge backlogs in our courts, but they are leaving the profession rapidly. 1,400 duty solicitors have left since 2017 because the work is not financially viable.
“Their absence is already being keenly felt. We are hearing reports of police being forced to release suspects because interviews are unable to progress without legal representation. We are seeing defendants appearing unrepresented in magistrates’ courts up and down the country.
“Lord Bellamy’s report – which was published more than two years ago – set out the ‘parlous’ state the profession was in. Yet, the then lord chancellor, Dominic Raab, chose to ignore his key recommendation of a minimum rates rise to keep the profession afloat.
“The government refused to mediate leaving us with no choice to continue this fight on behalf of our members in the courtroom.
“We hope the High Court will recognise that Dominic Raab’s decision was irrational and give the new lord chancellor the opportunity to reconsider it.
“It’s not too late for the government to take the steps needed to make this work financially viable for defence solicitors and help ensure access to justice remains open to all.”
Chloe Jay, a Winchester-based duty solicitor explained the gravity of the situation:
“The future of the profession is in real jeopardy with the average age of a duty solicitor now being 50.
"We don’t want to leave people in a police cell without legal advice, we don’t want to leave victims and witnesses to be questioned in court by the alleged perpetrator but there are no longer enough of us to cover this work and ensure justice for those in the criminal justice system.
“There are more and more police officers arresting more and more people. The Crown Prosecution Service have seen a huge recruitment drive – we are completely outnumbered and the inevitable consequence will be wide-scale miscarriages of justice.”
Notes to editors
The hearing is due to take place from Tuesday 12 to Thursday 14 December.
Contact the Press Office to speak to Chloe Jay.
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