Defending the future of criminal legal aid: what we’re doing for members

The criminal justice system is in crisis with a lack of investment leading to unprecedented backlogs and rapidly shrinking numbers of legal aid firms. Find out what we’re doing to fight for the future of criminal legal aid.

Sir Christopher Bellamy’s independent review of criminal legal aid recommended a 15% increase in rates for solicitors and barristers – worth around £135 million.

However, the funding package proposed by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) amounts to only 9% for solicitors – 40% less than Sir Christopher’s recommendations.

The government must urgently amend its proposals to protect access to justice and make the criminal justice system economically viable.

What we're doing

We’ve made significant efforts to raise your concerns at the highest levels, both publicly and behind the scenes.

Watch I. Stephanie Boyce set out the crisis facing the justice system and call on the legal community to come together to stave off disaster:

Voicing your concerns to the Justice Select Committee

“The number of criminal legal aid firms has halved since 2007. That is a drastic decline,” Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce explained in our evidence to the select committee in parliament in April 2022.

“Sir Christopher’s minimum recommendations are needed simply to halt that decline.”

“Failing to meet this minimum means that firms will continue to disappear until, eventually, the entire sector disappears.”

Not enough duty solicitors

“In some parts of the country, there are fewer than seven duty solicitors – less than the days of the week.”

This means each solicitor is on duty for at least one full 24-hour period every single week.

Some schemes are close to collapse, and soon the system will not be able to meet demand.

Ageing demographic

The lack of funding in criminal legal aid is causing lawyers to leave the sector and discouraging junior lawyers from joining.

Only 4% of criminal legal aid solicitors are under 35, compared to a quarter who are over 50.

Lack of pay and increased workload

As numbers drop, the pressure on those who are left becomes worse, leading to a vicious spiral of departures.

The sector cannot attract junior lawyers, nor can it survive unless practitioners are properly paid.

“To prevent this trend and the ongoing erosion of our criminal justice system, investment is needed: proper funding and proper remuneration is required.”

Dealing with no-returns and bar strike action

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) voted to institute a 'no returns' policy from 11 April 2022, and to escalate its protest from 27 June to include days of strike action.

Find out more about the CBA strike

We published updated guidance on what solicitors can do during days of action.

Read our guidance

Asking your questions to minister James Cartlidge

In May 2022, we met with justice minister James Cartlidge to question the government’s approach.

The minister asserted that the government “fundamentally” accepted the recommendation for £135 million and the need to increase legal aid fees.

However, he said the increase in funding “needs to be handled in a specific way” based on modelling.

Ultimately, we don’t think the government’s response has been good enough and we made this clear to the minister.

We challenged:

  • why the government has chosen not to implement Sir Christopher’s recommendations in full
  • why it will not meet the 15% fee increase, even when more money is added at the restructure stage
  • why it has not reversed the 8.75% fee cut from 2014
  • whether rates will be linked to inflation and, if not, how the government plans to prevent a future crisis

We also asked about the impact of the package on:

  • practitioner retention
  • junior lawyers who are thinking about a career in criminal defence

Listen to the webinar in full

Sharing our concerns with the government

We’ve responded to both of the government’s consultations on legal aid, stressing why it’s vital that the sector receives proper and sustainable funding.

Read our responses on the:

Amplifying your voices

We’ve been sharing the stories of criminal defence solicitors to help raise awareness of the problems facing the profession.

Watch Kelly, Joe and Stephen share their experiences:

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