Kelly’s story: what it’s like being a criminal duty solicitor

For criminal duty solicitors like Kelly Thomas, one phone call can mean an evening or weekend at the police station.


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.

For a criminal defence lawyer like Kelly, the call from the police station can happen at any time: she’s missed out on Christmas dinners, celebrations with friends and spending time with her young children.

Criminal defence lawyers’ passion for justice and protecting vulnerable people drives them to keep going, even in difficult circumstances.

But dwindling fees and a shrinking profession have increased caseloads and left criminal defence lawyers to watch the justice system erode around them.

A lack of legal aid funding means the system is no longer economically viable, let alone able to tackle unprecedented backlogs in the courts.

The number of criminal legal aid firms has almost halved in the last 15 years, and some counties have no duty solicitors under the age of 35.

At 43, Kelly’s one of the youngest defence solicitors in Brighton. But the future looks bleak.

“In 10 years’ time, there won’t be a criminal justice system. There won’t be anybody to call.”

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