Law Society High Court victory: government must rethink criminal legal aid funding before system collapses

The Law Society has urged the lord chancellor to safeguard the future of criminal legal aid following today’s victory in the High Court.

We took the government to court after it failed to increase criminal defence solicitors’ legal aid rates by the bare minimum 15%, as recommended by the independent review of criminal legal aid.

Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Jay today (31 January) ruled that the decisions on CLAIR were irrational and that the lord chancellor made insufficient enquiries as to the state of the criminal legal aid sector before making them.

The court observed that it had been presented with an “impressive, compelling, body of evidence” which showed “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.”*

“We are delighted the High Court has recognised that then-lord chancellor, Dominic Raab’s decision was irrational,” said Law Society of England and Wales president Nick Emmerson.

“We may have won the court battle but it’s the public who will lose out in custody suites and courtrooms across the country unless the government takes immediate action to stop the exodus of duty solicitors from the profession.

“1,400 duty solicitors have left since 2017 because the work is not financially viable.

“We are already seeing that there simply aren’t enough solicitors to represent suspects at police stations and magistrates’ courts day and night across the country. This situation will only get worse with potentially dangerous consequences for society.

“The imbalance between the defence and the prosecution will continue to grow and public trust in the criminal justice system will continue to fail.”

The Law Society now wants the government to ensure that the key recommendation of the independent review – a 15% legal aid rates’ rise – is implemented for solicitors as soon as possible. They must also commit to ensuring that criminal legal aid rates become and remain economically viable in the long term.

“It must be remembered that Lord Bellamy made that recommendation more than two years ago and said it was the bare minimum needed,” added Nick Emmerson.

“Reversing Raab’s irrational decision would be an important step to demonstrate the government is serious about ensuring that we may once again have a criminal justice system worthy of the name. A system which works effectively and efficiently needs to attract and retain lawyers on both sides to ensure balance between defence and prosecution.

“We are keen to work with the lord chancellor to help take the necessary steps to safeguard the future of this crucial profession.”

Notes to editors

The judicial review hearing took place from 12 to14 December 2023. The judgment was handed down today (31 January). Read the judgment

Para 176 of the judgment.

Thanks to Bindmans Solicitors, led by John Halford and Blackstone Chambers barrister Tom de la Mare KC.

About the Law Society

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Press office contact: Nick Mayo | 020 8049 4100

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