“U-turn makes a bad situation worse”: solicitors left behind by government deal

The dispute over criminal legal aid funding is far from over. Solicitors must receive parity on the 15% fee increase offered to barristers by November, or the criminal justice system will be brought to its knees by a permanent exodus of practitioners.
A statue of Lady Justice stands atop the Old Bailey in London on an overcast day.

The Criminal Bar Association has voted to end its strike and accept a deal from the government of an extra £30 million on top of the 15% increase in criminal legal aid fees recommended by the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid. 

Solicitors’ fees will increase by just 9% despite the review stating solicitors are in a worse situation and that a bare minimum 15% increase is needed to make businesses viable.

“Solicitors are the backbone of the crisis-hit criminal justice system,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“They will see that the government has found a magic money tree to stop the disruptive action of barristers – money that it claimed was not available to pay solicitors fairly.

“The justice minister may think he has got one problem off his table but there are bigger problems coming his way as this dispute continues. This is another example of a government U-turn making a bad situation worse.

“Our members will see that disruptive action achieves results that hard evidence and constructive engagement do not.”

No future in criminal defence without 15%

We warned ministers at an emergency meeting in September that there would be no future in criminal defence for solicitors without 15%.

The problems plaguing the criminal justice system cannot be fixed unless all parts of it are funded effectively.

The money must be found to give solicitors parity on the 15% fee increase.

“Duty solicitor schemes in Barnstaple, Skegness and Ceredigion, among others, have already collapsed, and more will surely follow without immediate support for firms,” Stephanie explained.

“If this money can be found to bring a strike to an end, surely it can be found to give a fair deal to solicitors, who have kept the wheels of justice turning despite 25 years without a pay rise?”

What happens next?

The funding gap must be bridged by the time the government publishes its full response to the independent review in November.

If not, we will advise our members that there is no viable future in criminal legal aid work.

“This mounting permanent exodus of solicitors from the criminal defence profession won’t cause temporary problems for the criminal justice system,” Stephanie added. “It will bring it to its knees altogether.

“Unless the government sees sense on its short-sighted approach to criminal justice, victims and defendants will continue to suffer, the backlog will continue to build and trust in the system will erode further.”

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