Risk of miscarriages of justice if duty solicitor decline continues

Urgent investment is needed to halt the declining number of duty solicitors and avoid miscarriages of justice, the Law Society of England and Wales has warned.

The Law Society is sounding the alarm bell ahead of a Westminster Hall debate tomorrow (Wednesday 13 March).*

“Duty solicitors work tirelessly around the clock providing essential legal advice to suspects at police stations,” said Law Society president Nick Emmerson.

“Their presence allows investigations to move forward quickly and they are critical to ensuring victims and defendants alike get justice.

“However, across England and Wales, duty solicitor schemes are in crisis because governments continue to undervalue their work.

“Some schemes have fewer than seven members, making providing 24/7 access to a duty solicitor challenging.

“Without investment, more solicitors will be forced out of the criminal defence profession, representation will become difficult to provide and there is a serious risk of miscarriages of justice.”

Since 2017, more than 1,400 duty solicitors have left the sector. Those that remain are ageing. Fewer than 4% of duty solicitors are under 35 years old and the average age in 2021 was 49 and is higher in many regions.

Across England and Wales, 32 duty solicitor schemes have fewer than seven members.

“Following our successful judicial review, the government should without any further delay implement the 15% increase recommended, in real terms, across all criminal legal aid rates,” added Nick Emmerson.

“In the long term, wider reform of criminal legal aid and a longer-term approach to its sustainability is needed too.

“As the High Court judges made clear, without a significant injection of funding, the criminal defence system, which is already ‘coming apart at the seams’, will collapse, endangering justice for all.”

Notes to editors

*See the Westminster Hall debate details

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

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