Administrative and public law

Westminster update: government announces funding for criminal legal aid

Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.

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View our maps of the growing civil legal aid deserts across the country. We have mapped declining provision in housing, education, immigration, and welfare.

We’re urgently calling on the government to independently review the sustainability of the civil legal aid system and make sure every area in England and Wales has an acceptable number of providers.

What you need to know

1. Government announces funding for criminal legal aid

The government confirmed it will increase some criminal legal aid fees as part of its response to the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid (CLAIR) on Thursday 30 June.

The increase will be worth 9% for solicitors.

It will come into force from September this year, with the possibility for further increases as the consultation on criminal legal aid concludes in the autumn.

We have said this should form the foundation for further increases and must not be the ceiling.

If criminal legal aid is to be put on a sustainable footing, CLAIR’s recommendation of a 15% increase for criminal legal aid rates must be implemented. This is the only way the government can sustain the justice system and address the courts backlog.

Alongside this announcement, the government announced it would be extending the scope of payments for pre-charge engagement, which we have long called for.

The statement also confirmed that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) will continue to work with us on the design of an advisory board for criminal legal aid, another recommendation of CLAIR.

The Criminal Bar Association previously voted to strike in response to the government’s criminal legal aid proposals.

We have published guidance for members affected by this.

2. SRA fining powers increased

The lord chancellor laid a statutory instrument before Parliament on Wednesday 29 June.

The instrument amends part of the Solicitor’s Act 1974 and the Justice Act 1984 to increase the maximum penalty that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) may direct a person to pay from £2,000 to £25,000.

We believe this increase of 1,150% is disproportionate.

We remain concerned about the lack of independence within the SRA between decision makers and prosecutors, as well as the lack of transparency around SRA decisions.

We staunchly opposed this increase in fining powers and lobbied the MoJ to reconsider its position.

We believe that the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) remains the most appropriate jurisdiction for more serious and complex matters and those that may involve higher fines.

The SDT is a better guarantor of independence, transparency and objectivity. It has adequate safeguards, as well as existing greater powers, including the ability to impose fines and strike-off a solicitor.

We'll monitor the impact of the increased fining powers to ensure regulation is proportionate and effective.

Read the president’s article on the increase

3. Norther Ireland Protocol Bill has second reading

On Monday 27 June, the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons by 295 votes to 221 votes.

The bill would allow the UK to unilaterally disapply parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, risking a trade war with the EU.

It has been reported that the bill is to be fast-tracked through Parliament with a condensed committee stage of just three days, instead of the usual two or three weeks.

During the debate on Monday, many MPs criticised the bill and raised the issue of its legality during the debate, including former prime minister Theresa May.

Opening the debate, the foreign secretary Liz Truss described the bill as “legal and necessary.” She stated that the UK remains committed to seeking a negotiated solution with the EU but that the bill is required in case such a solution cannot be agreed.

However, MPs from both parties asserted that the bill would have serious consequences for the UK’s international reputation as an upholder of the rule of law.

Coming up

We'll be working closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries:

If you made it this far...

Visit our London Legal Walk fundraising page for the 2022 London Legal Walk. We took on 10k on Tuesday on the 28 June in support of frontline free legal advice services.