No more delay: investment needed now to halt the decline of the criminal justice system
There can be no more hold-ups in criminal legal aid investment if timely access to justice for victims, witnesses and defendants is to be ensured, the Law Society of England and Wales warned.
Our call echoes the words of Sir Christopher Bellamy, chair of the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid, who is giving evidence on the review’s findings to the House of Commons’ Justice Committee today.
He said there was "no scope for further delay" in increasing the rates for criminal defence lawyers by a minimum £135million annually.
“The independent review provides a detailed analysis of the beleaguered state of the criminal justice system and recommends swift investment as the minimum necessary ‘first step in nursing the system of criminal legal aid back to health after years of neglect’,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.
“The 15% increase in criminal legal aid rates recommended in Sir Christopher’s report should be implemented immediately.
“If this does not happen, we fear that our members will leave the market at ever faster rates, which will seriously compromise the government’s ability to clear the huge backlog in the criminal courts and ensure timely justice for victims, witnesses and defendants.
“A healthy criminal legal aid profession is fundamental to efforts to level up access to justice with the early advice given by solicitors key to ensuring efficient progress of cases through the criminal justice system.
“If we continue to lose criminal defence firms and practitioners operating on high streets across the country then it is the most vulnerable in society who will suffer; those facing life-changing moments who can’t afford the legal representation they so desperately need or victims waiting years to see justice done.
“Criminal defence solicitors have been waiting 25 years for an increase, the number of criminal legal aid firms continues to fall at an alarming rate leaving parts of the country with little access to justice, and it is several years on from when the review into criminal legal aid was first announced.
“We support the measures suggested by Sir Christopher’s independent review and are keen to work with government on the detail of what will be required to implement them.”
Notes to editors
The latest figures released show 58,728 outstanding cases in the Crown Court and 372,654 outstanding magistrates’ court cases.
There were 1,621 firms holding a criminal legal aid contract in September 2012 compared to 1,080 firms in September 2021.
About the Law Society
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Press office contact: Nick Mayo | 020 8049 4100