A hard-hitting report by a group of influential MPs highlights how cuts to criminal legal aid are tarnishing the reputation of the justice system and denying people basic legal advice when they most need it.
"Crucially, the Justice Select Committee has backed our call for an independent review of the sustainability of the system and their intervention comes at a key moment - just a week after our legal challenge to the government's latest fee cuts was heard in the High Court," said Law Society of England and Wales president Christina Blacklaws.
"Criminal duty solicitors offer a vital public service, but cuts and the fact they have had no pay rises for more than 20 years are driving more and more of them away from criminal defence work."
Christina Blacklaws said: "Many lawyers no longer see a viable career doing criminal legal aid work, and it is difficult to attract newer members of the profession. The committee are right to call for a wider review of criminal legal aid regardless of the outcome of the legal challenge currently before the courts, given the extensive and compelling evidence of the crisis in the system.
"The Law Society has worked hard to highlight concerns about the sustainability of the criminal justice system. This report gives an accurate account of the pressures placed on defence lawyers."
Earlier this year the Law Society published new data which shows a looming crisis in the numbers of criminal duty solicitors. The mean average of a criminal duty solicitor across the whole of England and Wales is now 47, and in many regions the average age is even higher. The data highlights that in 5 to 10 years' time there could be insufficient criminal duty solicitors in many regions, leaving individuals in need of legal advice unable to access justice.
Christina Blacklaws added: "A thorough independent review of the long-term viability of the criminal legal aid system is now essential to ensure there is a stable supplier base of defence solicitors, to safeguard the rights of the vulnerable and to protect the reputation of our legal system."
Notes to editors
The Law Society was mentioned 19 times throughout the report, which highlighted our concerns regarding reforms to the LGFS and AGFS, our judicial review on the LGFS, our criminal duty solicitor heatmap and our wider concerns on the sustainability of the criminal justice system.
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