Perfect storm for criminal justice puts police investigations at risk – Gloucestershire among worst hit
The demise of duty solicitors across the country puts justice in jeopardy, we have warned as it releases new data projecting an alarming 37% fall in a decade (2,064 fewer defence solicitors).
The number of duty solicitors has already plummeted by 26% since 2017 (1,446 fewer). It is estimated that 618 more duty solicitors could be lost by 2027 (11%).
Gloucestershire is one of the worst hit police force areas in the country, with the 16 duty solicitors recorded in 2023 due to fall to 10 solicitors in the next five years. For a population that was recorded at around 641,000 people *, this is hardly enough to ensure access to justice in the area.
Duty solicitors play a vital role in providing representation at police stations to those who have been arrested for a crime. Without a duty solicitor available, some may choose to waive their right to a solicitor and decide to go ahead unrepresented.
If the suspect does not waive their right to a solicitor, the police cannot proceed, and have to release the suspect.
This decline comes at a time when arrests have risen for the first time in years, with 4,614 made in Gloucestershire in 2021/2022. More than 700,000 additional cases are set to enter the criminal justice system nationally due to rising police office numbers.**
“A combination of the expected increase in police officers and arrests, together with the fall in the number of duty solicitors on schemes in Gloucestershire, is creating a perfect storm in criminal justice that will affect victims of crime, witnesses and society as a whole,” said our president Lubna Shuja.
“Already, we are hearing from our members across the country that they are struggling to cover duty schemes. We are also hearing of instances nationally where the police are being forced to release suspects because interviews cannot progress without legal representation.
“The question is who will represent all the additional detainees? Across the country, duty solicitors are working day and night providing legal advice at the crucial earliest stage of cases at police stations, ensuring access to justice for all. But there simply aren’t enough defence solicitors available because the work is not financially viable.
“We are calling on Police and Crime Commissioners to urgently raise this issue with the government.
The government needs to take urgent action now to stop this decline, by increasing the fees paid to those doing criminal legal aid work – as its own independent review recommended.”
We are encouraging its members to write to their local MP to call on them to take action to prevent the collapse of our criminal justice system.
Notes for editors
- *Gloucestershire population recorded in 2020
- **In 2022, national arrests rose for the first time in seven years Home Office, Police powers and procedures: Stop and search and arrests, England and Wales, year ending 31 March 2022
- ***In 2021, the Home Office estimated that the recruitment of 20,000 additional police officers could lead to an additional 729,000 cases entering the criminal justice system from 2020-21 to 2029 30 National Audit office
- Visit here for a full breakdown of the national and Police Force Area forecasts
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