England: Law Society’s new president tells lawyers to turn down low-paid legal aid work

The new Law Society president has said criminal lawyers should turn down work for which they are not being properly compensated because they are demanding a 15% increase in legal aid fees, according to the lawyers.

Lubna Shuja’s appointment comes as the lawyers have been offered a 9% raise, despite having gone 25 years without a pay rise and fact and an independent review recommend a 15% raise.

Ms Shuja said contractual obligations prevent lawyers from following lawyers and going on strike.

“If we can see that there is an area of ​​work that is simply unsustainable and unviable, we have a duty to tell our members,” she said.

“That’s why we are here, the Bar, we are here to represent, promote, support more than 200,000 lawyers, and we must do it for each of them. So if we can see that a particular area is unsustainable, we need to tell our members and they will vote with their feet, as they do.

“That’s their answer, they just say, ‘I can’t afford to do this job anymore: it’s not viable, it’s not sustainable. I can’t live with those kind of prices. I’m leaving and I’m going to do something else. And that’s a real problem because the long-term consequences of that are that we’re not going to have a criminal justice system. »

She said the number of law firms in England and Wales that have a criminal legal aid contract has risen from 1,652 in 2012 to 964 today.

This has led to legal aid deserts in places like Barnstaple, North Devon, and Skegness, Lincolnshire.

Ms. Shuja also said that the average age of duty counsel is approaching 50 and that younger lawyers “have made it clear that they are not willing to undertake criminal legal aid work because it is not is just not viable for them”.