Criminal justice

Justice needs substantial as well as swift investment

Significant rate increases for defence solicitors must be forthcoming or victims and defendants will continue to suffer the consequences of a broken criminal justice system, the Law Society of England and Wales has warned.

The justice minister James Cartlidge has set out plans to lay a statutory instrument in Parliament before 21 July to begin the process of implementing increases to rates to come into effect by the end of September.*

But the overall proposed rate increases for solicitors fall well short of the bare minimum 15% recommended by the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid.

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

“Rates paid by the state to criminal defence firms have been stuck in a time warp since the 1990s and the UK government’s proposed 9% increase simply isn’t enough to turn the tide of solicitors and firms leaving the profession or to attract others to the work.

“Any one of us could find ourselves in a position where we need the crucial legal advice provided by a duty solicitor. 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.

“As the lord chief justice has said, there ‘do not seem to be enough criminal lawyers to go round’.”**

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.***

Only 4% of duty solicitors are aged under 35 and 81% of junior lawyers who responded to a Law Society survey said 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: “The government can take a first step to repairing our criminal justice system by immediately committing to the recommended bare minimum 15% increase for criminal defence solicitors.

“The short-term impact of direct action will pale in significance against the permanent departure of ever more criminal defence solicitors, barristers and law firms if this demanding work in the public interest is not properly rewarded.”

Notes to editors

*Justice minister James Cartlidge speaking to the Gazette

**Read the lord chief justice’s speech

***See the figures for firms with criminal legal aid contracts

****See our duty solicitor heatmaps and survey results

A statutory instrument is a form of secondary (delegated) legislation which allow the provisions of an act of Parliament to be subsequently brought into force or altered without having to pass a new act.

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Press office contact: Nick Mayo | 020 8049 4100

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