Proposed criminal legal aid funding boost welcome after 25-year wait
A recommended funding boost for criminal defence solicitors was today welcomed by the Law Society of England and Wales, which has spent years campaigning for additional resources for the beleaguered justice system.
But despite that welcome, concerns remain as to whether the cash injection will be sufficient to make the criminal defence sector truly sustainable.
The report of the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid, chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy, has been published today along with government confirming it will issue its full response and consultation by the end of March 2022.
“Sir Christopher’s report provides a detailed analysis of the state the criminal justice system is in and the recommended increase in remuneration rates demonstrates substantial progress in the right direction,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.
“Hundreds of criminal legal aid firms have shut their doors over the past decade with no significant increase in criminal legal aid remuneration rates since 1996.*
“We recognise this proposed uplift in funding does not undo all the damage of those 25 years and echo Sir Christopher’s view that it is the 'minimum necessary' first step.
“With a huge backlog of criminal cases to be heard and increased police numbers predicted to lead to more arrests, criminal defence solicitors are needed more than ever, but those that remain are already stretched to breaking point.
“Given the damage of the past and the current demands on the system, we share Sir Christopher’s view that further investment may still be needed to ensure the criminal justice system can function effectively and tackle the backlogs.**
“We welcome in principle the establishment of an independent advisory board.
“If you are arrested, you need the high-quality in-person advice in the police station and the magistrates’ court that our members provide to help ensure you get a fair trial and a just outcome.
“As Sir Christopher notes, 'If the initial stages of the process are properly handled, then the later stages of the process are likely to work better, to the benefit of defendants, victims and the public interest'.
“A functioning criminal legal aid profession is crucial for all of us; for those facing life-changing moments who can’t afford the legal representation they so desperately need; for the victim waiting years to see justice done because of cuts which have hit capacity in terms of courts, judges and lawyers.
“We are keen to work with government on the non-financial aspects of Sir Christopher’s report, many of which we have been proposing for several years.
“We will study the report in detail and provide a further response in due course.”
Notes to editors
*There were 1,621 firms holding a criminal legal aid contract in September 2012 compared to 1,080 firms in September 2021. See the figures
**The report shows that defence rates are about one third less in real terms than they were 13 years ago.
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