British justice in crisis: the end of criminal legal aid?

We’re fighting for the future of the criminal justice system after it emerged that solicitors will receive a fee increase that is 40% less than what Sir Christopher Bellamy recommended as the bare minimum to keep the system functioning.
An old-fashioned police lamp sits outside a police station on an overcast day.

Justice secretary Dominic Raab told the House of Commons on 22 March that “we matched the Bellamy recommendations on the quantum of investment and on the… uplift for fees”.

After detailed analysis, this turns out to not be the case and it has emerged that the total value of the fee increase for solicitors is 9% – not the often-quoted figure of 15%. This is 40% less than what Sir Christopher laid out as the bare minimum required in the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid (CLAIR).

“We can no longer support the government’s proposals,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“The government response sends a clear message that the Ministry of Justice is simply not serious about tackling the crisis in the criminal justice system.

“The crisis has seen the backlogs in the courts spiral to unprecedented levels, leaving victims, witnesses and defendants waiting years for justice.

“Without necessary investment at least on the scale Sir Christopher has said is urgently needed the backlogs will continue, and the profession will continue to shrink ever faster. It is likely that in five years’ time, we will no longer have a criminal justice system worthy of the name.”

Our research has demonstrated that:

  • the number of criminal legal aid firms has almost halved in the last 15 years
  • the number of duty solicitors is increasingly scarce in some parts of the country
  • there are no duty solicitors under the age of 35 in some counties

How to fix the crisis

The government needs to amend its proposals immediately so that the injection of funding for solicitors comes to the full 15% that Sir Christopher recommended.

This is the bare minimum required to make the system economically viable, and for the criminal justice system to operate at the capacity needed to tackle the court backlogs.

This could be done by:

  1. increasing the payments for police station and magistrates’ court work still further, or
  2. making greater increases to the basic fee for Crown Court work, or
  3. guaranteed additional funding on restructuring the Litigators’ Graduated Fee Scheme (LGFS), or
  4. some combination of these ideas

Defend the future of criminal legal aid

It’s not too late for the government to take action and solve the crisis.

On behalf of members, we have outlined reasonable and realistic steps that the government must take to save the criminal justice system.

These steps will mean the government’s approach is in line with the minimum requirements set out by Sir Christopher.

We urge all solicitors to share their experience and make their views known to the government.

You can join the fight by responding directly to its consultation on these proposals before 7 June.

Justice is a based on a simple idea: the rules apply to us all equally. It’s a precious concept that we cannot take for granted. It relies on adequate and appropriate investment in our justice system.

If the government is prepared to listen, then it can and must solve this crisis. If it doesn’t, then we are left to question: is this the end of criminal legal aid?

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