Significant rate increases for defense lawyers must be forthcoming or victims and defendants will continue to suffer the consequences of a broken down criminal justice system, the Law Society of England and Wales has warned.
Justice Minister James Cartlidge has announced plans to table regulatory text in Parliament by July 21 to begin the process of implementing rate increases to come into effect by the end of September.*
But the proposed overall rate increases for lawyers are well below the bare minimum of 15% recommended by the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid.
“This is a watershed moment for the future of the beleaguered criminal justice system,” said Law Society President I. Stephanie Boyce.
“Fees paid by the state to criminal defense firms have been locked in time since the 1990s and the 9% increase proposed by the UK government is simply not enough to reverse the trend for lawyers and firms to leave the profession or to attract others to work.
“Any of us could find ourselves in a position where we need crucial legal advice from duty counsel. Defense lawyers are needed more than ever to help tackle the huge backlog of cases at the Crown Court which is causing unacceptable delays for victims, witnesses and defendants.
“As the Lord CJ put it, there ‘doesn’t seem to be enough criminal lawyers to go around’.**
The number of companies doing criminal defense work has dropped by about half over the past 15 years. In February 2022, only 1,062 firms held a criminal legal aid contract compared to 2,010 in October 2007.***
Only 4% of duty counsel are under the age of 35, and 81% of young lawyers who responded to a Law Society survey said that criminal law is not an attractive long-term career.****
Many defense attorneys cross the courtroom to the Crown Prosecution Service or move into other areas of law for better pay and conditions.
I. Stephanie Boyce added: “The government can take a first step in fixing our criminal justice system by immediately committing to the recommended minimum increase of 15% for criminal defense attorneys.
“The short-term impact of direct action will pale in the face of the permanent departure of ever more criminal defense attorneys, attorneys and law firms if this demanding work in the public interest is not not properly rewarded.”
Notes to Editors
****See our duty counsel heatmaps and survey results
A statutory instrument is a form of secondary (delegated) legislation which allows the provisions of an Act of Parliament to be subsequently brought into effect or amended without having to pass a new law.
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