Criminal justice

Criminal legal aid review

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has concluded its review to consider the future and long-term sustainability of the criminal legal aid system.

This page includes information on:

Current stage: report published

Since January 2021, an independent review, chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy QC, has been looking at the fundamental principles of fee schemes for criminal legal aid in the round.

The final report was published on 13 December 2021, proposing a 15% pay increase for criminal legal solicitors, and echoing recommendations we've raised in our campaigning work.

See a full breakdown of the key recommendations

The government is expected to publish its response and a consultation by the end of March 2022.

Read our initial response

Criminal legal aid is not sustainable

Sir Christopher drew together various strands of evidence supporting our view that the criminal justice system is currently not economically sustainable, including that:

  • defence pay rates are 30 to 55% below those considered reasonable by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for committals/trials in the magistrates' court
  • rates are approximately one third less in real terms than they were 13 years ago
  • “structural underfunding of the [criminal justice system] as a whole has made a major contribution to the difficulties” (paragraph 7.13)
  • that it’s unlikely “that the returns available to equity holders will enable this sector to be sustainable for much longer, let alone encourage any further investment” (paragraph 6.63)

Law Society recommendations

The report echoes several recommendations that we’ve made in the past.

It proposes:

The report supports our view that:

  • work in police stations, magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court should each be broadly sustainable in its own right …. not dependent on undue cross-subsidy from other work streams” (paragraph 7.33)
  • police station work “should be properly rewarded for the time spent when the service is provided”
  • more weighting should be introduced “so that experienced lawyers [are] remunerated for dealing with serious cases”

The report rejects the ideas of:

  • competitive tendering
  • expanding the Public Defender Service – noting that the present system is “sound in concept but suffering from severe underfunding”
Past stages

Ran from January to December 2021 and chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy

In May 2021, we responded to the review's call for evidence, warning that the criminal defence profession could collapse if the government does not increase funding.

Read our full response

Read more about the review

The review was supported by an expert and advisory panel, to test and challenge its findings and recommendations. The panel was made up of individuals from a range of backgrounds, skills and experience.

See a list of panel members

Published in February 2021 to give an overview of legal-aid providers

In February 2021, the MoJ Criminal Legal Aid Review (CLAR) team published a data compendium which summarises information on publicly funded legal services.

We worked with the MoJ to combine key datasets, along with the Bar Council, the Legal Aid Agency and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The compendium presents a broad overview of the main features of the legal-aid provider base. However, it's likely that more detailed analysis will be carried out in due course.

View the data compendium

Fast-tracked reforms in 2020 for aspects of fee schemes, including pre-charge engagement

After launching the review in March 2019, the government fast-tracked certain aspects of existing fee schemes, in response to our lobbying on urgent changes needed to keep the profession sustainable.

The MoJ carried out two consultations on these accelerated areas, looking at how litigators and/or advocates are paid for work on:

  • unused material
  • paper-heavy cases
  • cracked trials in the Crown Court
  • sending cases to the Crown Court
  • pre-charge engagement

We published our consultation responses on the above in June 2020 and January 2021.

Our view

We gave input into the review in the following areas:

Sustainability

We believe fees must:

  • allow firms to recruit and keep new lawyers
  • be increased and kept at an adequate level
  • reflect the 24-hour service
  • enable career progression
  • keep the criminal defence profession diverse

Quality

We think there should be:

  • incentives for solicitors at the right level of seniority to do the work
  • enhanced fees for work in the youth courts

Simplicity

Red tape and administration should be reduced.

Rewarding early work

We believe there should be:

  • payment for consideration of disclosure of evidence early in the case
  • front loading of Crown Court fees
  • fees that better reflect the work required for guilty pleas
  • payment for looking at unused material

Fair pay

We think there should be:

  • payment for out-of-hours work
  • payment for work that is currently unpaid

Future-proofing

Any new fee scheme needs to adapt to changes in technology and changes in:

  • police practice
  • court and police station consolidation
  • case mix
  • political priorities
  • society

Waste reduction

The cost of avoidable waste in the system, for example as a result of bureaucratic error or lack of preparation, should be borne by the people or agency causing the waste.

Yearly fee reviews

We believe there should be:

  • reviews every year, based on data, of whether the fees are properly paying solicitors for the work they do
  • fee increases every year in line with inflation

What we're doing

The independent review has proposed a 15% pay increase for criminal legal aid solicitors, following sustained campaigning from the Law Society on behalf of our members. 

We continue to press the Ministry of Justice to get the money to our members as soon as possible.

 

We responded to the independent criminal legal aid review (ICLAR) call for evidence, warning that the criminal defence profession could collapse if the government does not increase funding.

Read our response

Read our press release

The MoJ Criminal Legal Aid Review (CLAR) team published a data compendium which summarises information on publicly funded legal services.

We worked with the MoJ to combine key datasets, along with the Bar Council, the Legal Aid Agency and the Crown Prosecution Service.

View the data compendium

We responded to the MoJ consultation on the fee to be paid to solicitors for ‘pre-charge engagement’ (PCE).

This is the final part of the ‘accelerated items’ which were brought forward as part of the CLAR.

This could not be included in the consultation earlier in 2020 as the attorney general was consulting on revisions to the Guidelines on Disclosure, which provide the framework for pre-charge engagement. Revised guidelines came into force at the end of 2020.

Read our consultation response (PDF 301 KB)

Read the consultation documents

Read the attorney general’s guidelines (Annex B)

The MoJ announced that the second phase of the review will be chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy QC, launching in January with a report expected before the end of 2021.

We welcomed the announcement that the next stage of the Criminal Legal Aid Review is underway, however we are clear that government support is needed for criminal legal aid firms to survive, in addition to the structural increase in resources that will be needed for the long-term sustainability of the sector.

Read our press release

Read the MoJ press release

In August 2020, the MoJ published its response to the accelerated items consultation.

The MoJ announced that all of the proposals in the consultation paper would go ahead, except that as a result of representations made in our response, the fee for sent cases will be increased from two hours' work to four hours.

Whilst this represents a small injection of much-needed funds into criminal legal aid, it does not go far enough to begin to address the problems faced by criminal legal aid firms and practitioners, all of which have been worsened by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Read our press release

Read the MoJ response

The Ministry of Justice closed this consultation on 17 June 2020.

We’re concerned that the proposals in this consultation will undermine the government’s objectives of improving the functioning of the criminal justice system. They will do nothing to prevent the collapse of criminal defence firms, meaning that in future both the accused and the victim will go without justice.

We’re disappointed to see that the interim proposals do not go far enough to prevent the crisis in the provision of criminal legal aid to those who need it.

Read our full response (PDF 460 KB)

We also submitted a supplementary response (PDF 173KB) which raises concerns about:

  • the reduction in the value of the package due to the drop in activity in the system following the coronavirus outbreak
  • the even more urgent need for additional support for legal aid solicitors

We were encouraged that the MoJ was considering accelerating some of the urgent changes required to secure the sustainability of the profession.

However, the MoJ has announced more information about these accelerated items and we do not believe they will do enough to secure the short-term sustainability of the profession.

We published details of our concerns as well as information on how you can help make our voice heard.

We had expected an interim set of announcements in November 2019 as part of the accelerated work in the criminal legal aid review.

Due to the December 2019 general election, announcements could not take place in November 2019 as originally expected.

Alongside our criminal justice campaign, the Law Society and others had fed evidence into the review to ensure that our serious concerns about the sustainability of the criminal justice system were understood. A strong evidence base has been built, but it remains a matter for the next administration to make decisions on future investment.


The MoJ accelerated its review work plan of criminal legal aid fees in key areas we lobbied on.

The Ministry of Justice began its review of criminal legal aid fees, which was due to report at the end of 2020.

Resources

Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid: final report (PDF, 1.09 MB, 165 pages)

Data compendium on legal aid providers

Guidance on the criminal legal aid review on GOV.UK

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS