Funding for criminal legal aid cannot wait

This report is an important step in the right direction.

In addition to an increase in wages, he proposes structural reforms that should align remuneration much better with the work required on the files.

Sir Christopher is also keen to encourage early preparation – on all sides – to ensure cases that should be dropped do not proceed and that, where appropriate, guilty pleas are entered early.

The ball is now in the court of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) as to how it will respond, and it has promised to do so by the end of March. We know that criminal legal aid funding was included in the spending review, although we don’t know the exact details.

Urgent changes

One of the challenges we face is that structural reforms will take time to develop. It’s worth taking this time to make sure we get them right.

In our recent webinar, we highlighted some of the key questions we will need to address when developing these programs, and we would welcome your thoughts on these questions, as well as any other insights you have on the proposals.

But as Sir Christopher has made clear in the starkest of terms, our members cannot wait for all this work to be done before we see additional investment.

We also believe that there are other simpler, non-controversial reforms that could be introduced sooner rather than later.

We therefore urge the Department of Justice to ensure that its announcement in March includes the rapid implementation of the following:

  1. A general increase in pay rates pending proposed structural reforms
  2. Revised Proposals for Pre-Charge Recognition
  3. Introduction of a default assumption in favor of legal advice for young suspects
  4. Removal of the means test anomaly for defendants who plead guilty in the Magistrates Court and are then remanded to the Crown Court
  5. A guilty plea in the Crown Court, where the magistrates would have accepted jurisdiction, should attract the appropriate Crown Court costs, not the Magistrates Court costs.

If there are other measures that you think could be implemented quickly and are worth asking for, please let us know.

Tell us your priorities

Defend our members

We have spoken, and will continue to speak, directly to Ministers and Department of Justice officials about their next steps, and with other parliamentarians from all political walks of life.

Our President, I. Stephanie Boyce, spoke at the recent meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid (watch Stephanie’s contribution at 00:15:30).

We had a letter published in Guardian and we continue to seek other opportunities to promote our cause in the media.

It’s been a long fight to get here, and it’s not over yet.

We must persuade the Ministry of Justice to implement the financial and structural recommendations of Sir Christopher’s report.

Whatever is announced in March, the fight to achieve it will continue.