Our High Court victory: government must rethink criminal legal aid funding

The High Court has ruled in the Law Society’s favour in our judicial review against the Ministry of Justice. Evidence from our members showed “the system is slowly coming apart at the seams”. Now, the government must rethink its irrational decision on criminal legal aid funding before the system collapses.

We urge the current lord chancellor to safeguard the future of criminal legal aid following our victory in the High Court on 31 January 2024.

Why we took the MoJ to court

We took the government to court in December 2023 after it failed to increase criminal defence solicitors’ legal aid rates by the bare minimum 15%, as recommended by the independent review of criminal legal aid back in 2021.

This is part of our work as the professional body for solicitors, amplifying the powerful collective voice of more than 200,000 members by advocating at the highest levels on the issues you’ve told us matter most.

Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Jay ruled that the government’s decision on criminal legal aid funding was irrational and that the lord chancellor did not make proper enquiries before making his decision.

The court praised our “impressive, compelling, body of evidence” which showed “the system depends to an unacceptable degree on the goodwill and generosity of spirit of those currently working within it.”

Read the judgment

Fixing our criminal legal aid system

The judges said: “In short, the evidence from solicitors working at grass-roots level is that the system is slowly coming apart at the seams.

“Unless there are significant injections of funding in the relatively near future, any prediction along the lines that the system will arrive in due course at a point of collapse is not overly pessimistic.”

Our president Nick Emmerson said in response to the ruling: “We are delighted the High Court has recognised that then-lord chancellor, Dominic Raab’s decision was irrational.”

For our criminal justice system to work, it needs to attract and retain lawyers on both sides to ensure balance between defence and prosecution.

“Reversing Raab’s irrational decision would be an important step to show the government is serious about ensuring that we may once again have a criminal justice system worthy of the name."

Next steps: our message to Alex Chalk

It’s not too late for the government to take the steps needed to make criminal defence work financially viable for law firms and help ensure access to justice remains open to all.

“We hope Alex Chalk will see the urgency of the crisis in criminal legal aid and ensure that the key recommendation of the independent review – a 15% legal aid rates rise – is implemented for solicitors as soon as possible.

He must also commit to ensuring that criminal legal aid rates become and remain economically viable in the long term. Because of the impact of inflation since the Bellamy report, the limited sums the government has invested in legal aid over the past two years have already been wiped out, and the position today is even worse than Bellamy described.

“It must be remembered that Lord Bellamy made that recommendation more than two years ago and said it was the bare minimum needed,” added Nick Emmerson.

“We are keen to work with the lord chancellor to help take the necessary steps to safeguard the future of this crucial profession.”

The government has confirmed it will not be appealing the decision.

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS