National Law Society President I. Stephanie Boyce welcomed the government’s proposal to increase legal aid rates, but said more needed to be done to stem the exodus of criminal law practitioners into the South West.
Miss Boyce, during a visit to Plymouth and Exeter, revealed there were just 12 duty solicitors left working in Devon and Somerset combined – and most of them are in the final stages of their careers .
“We hope to stop the exodus of criminal defense practitioners leaving the justice system,” she said.
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Miss Boyce said the Law Society had welcomed the government’s proposal to raise legal aid rates by 15 per cent and to accept Sir Christopher Bellamy’s recommendation to invest an extra £135m a year in the criminal legal aid sector.
But she said there were fears the rate hike would not be implemented immediately but only after a 12-week consultation that will end on June 7.
She said even more duty counsel could leave the criminal justice sector during this time and pointed out that between 2018 and 2021 the numbers had dropped by 7% outside of London and the number of duty counsel under the age of 35 had decreased by 35%.
“We haven’t seen any significant increase in legal aid rates in 25 years,” she said. “This amounts to a wage freeze. I don’t know of any other job that hasn’t had a raise in 25 years.
“This (rate increase) will begin to repair some of the damage done to our crumbling justice system. We would have liked more than 15% but this represents a significant improvement and a good result for us.
She added: “We have been campaigning for years to secure this investment and welcome proposals, but our concern is that this consultation period means there will be no increase until June 7. We are concerned about the number of practitioners who will leave the profession before this consultation ends – so we would like to see it implemented immediately.
Miss Boyce said the average age of defense practitioners is now 49 and 55 in some parts of the country.
Miss Boyce – only the sixth woman and the first person of color to be National President of the Law Society – is taking part in a ‘President’s Tour’ of England and Wales and has previously visited Bristol, Bournemouth, the Isle of Wight and London.
In Exeter and Plymouth, she visited law firms and also spoke to students at Plymouth University and Devonport High School for Girls.
Business Live’s South West business reporter is William Telford. William has over a decade of experience reporting on the business scene in Plymouth and the South West. It is based in Plymouth but covers the whole region.
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Miss Boyce told students about her own journey, under the title ‘Dare to Dream’, as the child of migrants to the UK from the Caribbean, and with no family ties to appeal to, she rose to a post representing 215,000 lawyers .
“My grandfather was illiterate, my father left school at 12,” she says. “There were no academic networks in my family.”
While emphasizing that she represents ‘everyone’, Miss Boyce said she always aimed to inspire people from minority backgrounds in the legal profession.
“I intend to leave the profession in a more diverse and inclusive way than when I entered,” she said. “It’s great to be recognized, but I couldn’t have done it without the support of my members. »