Time for action from lord chancellor on criminal legal aid

Ahead of meeting with the lord chancellor on Monday (29 April), the Law Society is calling on the government to stop dragging its feet and invest in criminal legal aid following our High Court victory.

The Law Society took the government to court after it failed to increase criminal defence solicitors’ legal aid rates by the bare minimum 15%, as recommended by the independent review of criminal legal aid.

Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Jay ruled on 31 January that the decisions on criminal legal aid were irrational, and that the lord chancellor had made insufficient enquiries as to the state of the criminal legal aid sector before making them.

The court observed that it had been presented with an “impressive, compelling, body of evidence” which showed “the system is slowly coming apart at the seams”.

“The government is dragging its feet, despite the urgency of the situation in the criminal justice system,” said Law Society of England and Wales president Nick Emmerson.

“The government is failing on crime. The number of firms and solicitors doing criminal legal aid work continues to fall, with knock-on effects across the wider justice system.

“Police investigations are impacted as there are not enough solicitors to represent the accused, while prosecution recruitment is also hit as the cohort of young defence solicitors the Crown Prosecution Service used to attract continues to shrink.

“Our latest research shows only 49% of people are aware legal aid is available for issues relating to crime*. Having access to defence lawyers is integral to our adversarial justice system. Without a functioning defence profession, any talk of increasing prosecutions, cutting the backlogs and improving justice for victims is fanciful.

“The lord chancellor has noted "some extremely trenchant, sobering and striking remarks were made by the court [in response to the judicial review], which I have read carefully and very much taken on board”.

“On Monday we want the lord chancellor to demonstrate he is taking the judgment seriously by making a commitment to inject immediate funding into criminal legal aid.

“A clear timeline also needs to be set for stabilising the future of the criminal defence profession. Urgent action is needed now to tackle the very real crisis our criminal justice system is currently in.”

Notes to editors

• See the survey here and the legal aid section on p15.

About the Law Society

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Press office contact: Nick Mayo | 020 8049 4100

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