Perfect storm for criminal justice puts police investigations at risk – Norfolk among worst hit

The demise of duty solicitors across the country puts justice in jeopardy, the Law Society of England and Wales has 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%).

Norfolk is among one of the worst hit police force areas in the country, with the 39 duty solicitors recorded in 2023 due to fall to 33 solicitors in the next five years. For a population that was recorded at around 914,000 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, rising by 32% to 10,396 made in Norfolk 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 Norfolk, is creating a perfect storm in criminal justice that will affect victims of crime, witnesses and society as a whole,” said Law Society 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.”

The Law Society is 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

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Nick Mayo | 020 8049 4100
Louise Navarro-Cann | 020 8049 3715

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