Raab's cut to legal aid will bring chaos to criminal justice
The justice secretary has completely rejected the advice of the government’s own independent review of the crisis in the criminal justice system by imposing a real-terms cut on legal aid rates for solicitors.
The review led by Lord Bellamy sought to solve the crisis in the financial viability of criminal legal aid work but the government’s actions today will make it worse, the Law Society of England and Wales has warned.
The UK government published its final response to the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid today (30 November 2022).
“Dominic Raab has made the wrong decision in not implementing the immediate 15% criminal legal aid rate rise for solicitors. The independent review recommended this a year ago as a bare minimum to prevent the criminal defence sector from collapsing,” said Law Society of England and Wales President Lubna Shuja.
“Instead, he is imposing a real-terms cut on fees that have been frozen since the 1990s.
“Numbers of duty solicitors and criminal legal aid firms continue to fall at an alarming rate – with several police station schemes on the verge of collapse. Access to justice – including the fundamental right to representation at the police station – is in serious peril and the government is ignoring the threat.
“Until the government chooses to address the crisis in the criminal justice system, victims will continue to be let down, court delays will increase and talk of being tough on crime will be nothing but empty words.
“The Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid was the last hope that the Ministry of Justice would take the crisis seriously and that there could be a viable future in criminal defence practice for our members. Instead Raab has thrown down a gauntlet to the profession.
“This reckless decision not only puts many of our members’ futures in jeopardy, it is likely to prove to be a fatal blow to a criminal justice system that used to be the envy of the world.”
Law Society analysis suggests that the number of duty solicitors will decrease by another 19% by 2025 (687 fewer duty solicitors) and the number of firms doing criminal legal aid work will decrease by 16% (150 fewer firms), leaving many people without access to a lawyer when they desperately need one.
“Our warning to those entering the profession, and considering a career in criminal defence practice, is that given the current situation with criminal legal aid, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to generate a reasonable professional income from this work,” added Lubna Shuja.
“Solicitors are under a professional obligation to make sure they manage risks to the financial stability and business viability of their practices.*
“It will be for each firm to make its own assessment as to its own individual circumstances. For many firms, continuing with a criminal defence practice in the absence of the basic funding Bellamy identified as essential for sustainability may be incompatible with their professional obligations.”
“Having seen that direct action gets results, the response from some of our members may be to resort to disruptive tactics,” said Lubna Shuja.
“But far more worrying than any disruption caused by short-term action is the continued loss of criminal defence solicitors which is already leaving parts of the criminal justice system wholly unable to cope with the demands on it. This will get even worse across more areas of England and Wales. It will be far more costly to fix if we get that far.
“We are still exploring options for saving the system, including a legal challenge of the decision.”
Notes to editors
* “2.4 You actively monitor your financial stability and business viability. Once you are aware that you will cease to operate, you effect the orderly wind-down of your activities.” (SRA Code of Conduct for Firms)
* “2.5 You identify, monitor and manage all material risks to your business, including those which may arise from your connected practices.” (SRA Code of Conduct for Firms)
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