Law Society takes government to court on criminal legal aid
The Law Society has issued judicial review proceedings against the Ministry of Justice.
“We believe the government’s decision not to increase criminal defence solicitors’ legal aid rates by the recommended minimum 15% is both unlawful and irrational. It will have dire consequences for access to justice and the future of our criminal justice system.” said Law Society president Lubna Shuja.
“We are fighting for the future of our justice system using every tool we have, including taking the fight to the courts.”
Our reasons for a legal challenge
Judicial review is a way to test the lawfulness of decisions made by public bodies.
The government has failed to take the crisis in the criminal justice system seriously, and:
- ignored the recommendations of its own independent review
- been inconsistent – finding money for defence and prosecution barristers but not solicitors, despite their situation being described as more “parlous”
- rejected independent mediation
The government’s response to our pre-action letter failed to satisfactorily address the serious concerns we’ve raised about the collapse of the criminal legal aid sector as a result of years of chronic underfunding.
Now, we are now taking this fight to the High Court.
Duty solicitors are vital to our justice system
Even after a busy day in court, criminal duty solicitors spend evenings and weekends at police stations to help people who have been arrested understand their legal rights.
They offer free legal advice to anybody detained by the police, regardless of wealth, age or nationality.
Without proper funding, more duty solicitors and firms are being forced to leave legal aid work:
- more than half of firms have left since 2007
- over 1,000 duty solicitors have left since 2017
The government claims there is no real risk to access to justice, but without duty solicitors, we’ll be left with:
- victims, witnesses and defendants being denied access to justice
- delays in police stations or more defendants released on bail as police cannot interview them without a lawyer present
- more strain on our backlogged courts
Justice cannot survive on “jam tomorrow”
The government’s response "is too little, too late, more promises of jam tomorrow, when the criminal justice system is in crisis today,” added Lubna Shuja.
We have applied to the High Court for permission to challenge the government’s implementation of the recommendations made in the Bellamy report, by way of judicial review.
“We will do everything in our power to get a fair deal for defence solicitors and ensure access to justice for all.”