Perfect storm for criminal justice puts police investigations at risk

The demise of the duty solicitor 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).

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%).

Analysis carried out by the Law Society predicts there will be fewer duty solicitors registered on schemes in 42 out of 43 police force areas with Cumbria, Dorset and Gloucestershire among the worst hit.

This decline comes at a time when arrests have risen for the first time in years* and more than 700,000 additional cases are set to enter the criminal justice system due to rising police office numbers.**

“Our projections show the widescale collapse of duty solicitor schemes across England and Wales is ever more likely,” said Law Society president Lubna Shuja.

“Combined with more police officers and cases, this is creating a perfect storm in criminal justice that will affect victims of crime, witnesses and society as a whole.

“Already, we are hearing from our members that they are struggling to cover duty schemes. We are also hearing of instances where the police are being forced to release suspects because interviews are unable to progress without legal representation.

“We have been warning for years that the criminal justice system – described as dysfunctional and defective in the recent State of Policing report – is in crisis.***

“Instead of heeding our warnings, government after government have stood by and watched as this crisis unfolds.

“Our crumbling courts are overwhelmed, prisons overcrowded, judges and lawyers overstretched. With fewer duty solicitors and more cases coming into the system, we have reached breaking point.****

“Who is going to 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 of them to go round because the work is not financially viable.

“The government sees itself as the party of law and order, but the evidence points to the contrary as its decisions continue to put the future of our criminal justice system at risk.

“A first step for the government to demonstrate it is serious about tackling crime would be to stop short-changing defence solicitors. Instead, implement in full the urgent recommendations of their independent review of criminal legal aid – a 15% increase to stop the total collapse of the system.

“The failure to do this has sent a clear message that the government is not serious about addressing the crisis.”

Notes for editors

*In 2022, arrests rose for the first time in seven years. See the arrest figures

**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

 ***See HMICFRS, State of Policing report 2022, 9 June 2023, page 14

****The Court of Appeal has already advised judges to consider prison overcrowding before imposing short prison sentences. See R v Ali [2023] EWCA Crim 232

See a full breakdown of the national and police force area forecasts

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Press office contact: Nick Mayo | 020 8049 4100

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