Criminal legal aid review

What’s changing

Pre-charge engagement fee consultation

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is consulting until 25 January 2021 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 Criminal Legal Aid Review (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 provides the framework for pre-charge engagement. Revised guidelines have now been published and came into force at the end of 2020.

We'll be responding in detail to the proposals, and we encourage practitioners engaged in criminal legal aid work to also submit a response.

Read the consultation documents

Read our comments on our Twitter

Read the attorney general’s guidelines (Annex B)

CLAR chair appointed

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

We welcomed the announcement that the second stage of the Criminal Legal Aid Review is underway, however we are clear that government support is needed right now 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

Accelerated items consultation update

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

It has been decided that all of the proposals in the consultation paper will 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

Our view

We’re giving 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

June 2020 – We published our response to the CLAR fees scheme review

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 460KB)

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

February 2020 – ‘accelerated items’ announced are insufficient

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.

November 2019 – Impact of general election on the review

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, anticipated announcements could not take place in November 2019 as originally expected.

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

We understand that it is feasible that interim decisions could be made shortly after the election.

Whatever the outcome of the general election, we will do all we can to ensure that the criminal justice system is an urgent priority for the next government.

July 2019 – review workplan accelerated

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

March 2019 – review started

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

Get involved

Give your feedback to the MoJ review