Criminal defence solicitors are uniquely placed to ensure defendants from minority ethnic backgrounds are treated fairly, the Law Society of England and Wales said today.
"The Law Society is committed, as are the dedicated practitioners who work in criminal justice, to improving the system in the public interest and ensuring that all are equal in the eyes of the law," said president of the Law Society Joe Egan, responding to David Lammy's review of the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) individuals in the criminal justice system.
He added: "Criminal defence solicitors have a duty always to act in their client's best interests. We will look at what more we can do to ensure all defendants are aware that their solicitor is completely independent of the police or other criminal justice agencies, and that their efforts are entirely directed to achieving the best possible result for their client within the law and in the circumstances of the case.
"We recognise the importance of a legal profession that reflects the population it serves. The Law Society has made great strides in increasing diversity so that today the proportion of solicitors from BAME backgrounds, at 14.1%, closely mirrors that of the general population.
"However, at more senior levels we have a lot of work to do before we can say with any confidence that we demonstrate diversity. We are helping firms to adopt fair recruitment and development procedures, as well as supporting them to recognise unconscious bias."
Criminal legal aid solicitors are critical for ensuring that anyone accused of wrongdoing has a fair trial. But the viability of firms doing criminal defence work is under threat as remuneration rates for criminal legal aid work have not been increased since 1998.
Joe Egan concluded: "Criminal justice is at the heart of a democratic society and underpins the rule of law."
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