U-turn is not the solution to criminal justice crisis

The dispute over criminal legal aid funding is far from over, the Law Society of England and Wales has warned, as barristers accept a pay deal after another government U-turn.

Striking barristers have accepted a deal from government of an extra £30 million in sweeteners on top of the 15% increase in criminal legal aid fees recommended in the Lord Bellamy-led independent review.

Meanwhile, solicitors’ fees will increase by just 9% despite the same review stating solicitors are in a worse situation and that a bare minimum 15% increase is required to make their businesses viable.

“The justice minister may think he has got one problem off his table but there are bigger problems coming his way as this dispute continues. This is another example of a government U-turn making a bad situation worse,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“Solicitors are the backbone of the crisis-hit criminal justice system. They will see that the government has found a magic money tree to stop the disruptive action of barristers – money that was not available to pay solicitors fairly.

“Our members will see that disruptive action achieves results that hard evidence and constructive engagement do not.”

“You cannot fix the problems plaguing the criminal justice system unless you fund all parts of it effectively. The money must be found to give solicitors parity on the 15% fee increase.

“Duty solicitor schemes in Barnstaple, Skegness and Ceredigion, among others, have already collapsed, and more will surely follow without immediate support for firms.

“If this money can be found to bring a strike to an end, surely it can be found to give a fair deal to solicitors, who have kept the wheels of justice turning despite 25 years without a pay rise.

“If the gap isn’t bridged by the time the government publishes their full response to the independent review in November, we have made it clear we will advise our members that there is no viable future in criminal legal aid work.

“This mounting permanent exodus of solicitors from the criminal defence profession won’t cause temporary problems for the criminal justice system, it will bring it to its knees altogether.

“Unless the government sees sense on its short-sighted approach to criminal justice, victims and defendants will continue to suffer, the backlog will continue to build and trust in the system will erode further.”

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Press office contact: Nick Mayo | 020 8049 4100

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