No future in criminal defence for solicitors without 15%, we warn minister

We had an urgent meeting on 29 September with the Ministry of Justice, after the government offered a payoff for barristers to end their strike.

We are considering suggesting that solicitors do not undertake criminal defence work. There appears to be little future in this practice area unless the government gives solicitors parity with barristers and grants the bare minimum 15% rate increase recommended by its own independent review.

On Thursday 29 September, we met with Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Ministry of Justice Gareth Johnson, to warn that the criminal justice system will collapse unless the government funds all parts of the system equally. This followed a government announcement about a payoff offered to barristers to end their strike.

In our meeting, we stressed that a 15% rate increase for solicitors is not a starting point for negotiation, but the absolute minimum needed for a sustainable system. This echos Sir Christopher Bellamy’s recommendation that a 15% uplift would be “the minimum necessary” with “no scope” for delay.

Our view

“The criminal justice system is in crisis and the government is falling way short of addressing it. You cannot fix the problems in the system unless you fund all parts of it effectively,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“Solicitors are the backbone of the criminal justice system, guiding their clients from the first moment at the police station, through to passing of a sentence.

“They are not taking short-term disruptive action. They are simply leaving the profession permanently, in ever greater numbers because the work is not financially viable.”

We believe the government’s failure to grant solicitors parity with criminal barristers is short-sighted given:

  • solicitors make up most of the criminal defence sector
  • the independent review the government commissioned made clear solicitors are in an even worse financial situation than their counterparts at the Bar

“This exodus of solicitors would have a far greater impact than the barristers’ strike, with magistrates, youth and Crown Court cases and even police interrogations affected” added I. Stephanie Boyce.

“If solicitors do not get parity on the bare minimum 15% recommended by Lord Bellamy, the Ministry of Justice will have made it clear that there is no future in criminal defence practice and we will suggest our members do not undertake it. No responsible organisation could truthfully say otherwise.”

Read I. Stephanie Boyce’s full statement

Why can’t solicitors go on strike?

Solicitors have different professional obligations and relationships with clients compared to barristers – including a duty of care that starts with the solicitor’s role in the case, for criminal cases this can often be as early as in the police station.

Duty solicitors also have legal obligations to the Legal Aid Agency, which could mean that strike action would risk breaching their contracts.

What can solicitors do?

During the CBA's no-returns action, we shared guidance for solicitors about not taking on advocacy work beyond their competence.

We’ve also published guidance on the circumstances in which solicitors may refuse to undertake unremunerative work without breaching their professional and contractual obligations.

Read our practice note on rejecting unremunerative work

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