Westminster update: Law Society warns MPs of ‘implosion’ of criminal legal aid system

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As Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt launch their first fall statement, read our President Lubna Shuja’s article outlining our top priorities for the new government.

What do you want to know

1. Criminal legal aid: Law Society warns MPs against ‘imploding’ system

Our Chief Justice, Richard Miller, testified to the Select Committee on Justice on the crisis of legal aid in criminal matters, Tuesday 15 November.

Miller made it clear that the system is “imploding before our eyes” and said the government must implement the 15% increase in criminal legal aid rates for recommended lawyers as the bare minimum if it is to stop this. .

Criminal duty counsel systems, which provide representation at the police station, are already breaking down and without intervention this will continue.

Daniel Bonich of the Criminal Solicitors Lawyers Association said that over the past five years, 25% of duty counsel have been lost.

While the broader legal profession is growing, the same growth is not being seen among criminal defense attorneys.

Many companies stop working because they don’t have the manpower to do so. This will cause delays in the courts and at the police stations.

He added that because it can offer higher salaries, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is able to recruit and take on staff from defense contractors, worsening the recruitment crisis facing the profession.

Kerry Morgan, of Morgan Brown and Company Solicitors, said things were “disastrous” in Greater Manchester.

It had lost three senior staff to the CPS and was unable to recruit duty counsel or police representatives.

She highlighted a case where she received a £200 fee for her work, while a psychologist she commissioned as an expert witness was paid £1,000.

Morgan added that she had to turn down certain types of cases because they cost her business money and would lead to bankruptcy if she accepted them.

Watch Richard Miller describe the challenges facing criminal legal aid

2. Law Society testifies on mental health bill

Kirsty Stuart, Chair of our Mental Health and Disability Committee, testified orally before the Joint Committee on the Mental Health Bill Tuesday, November 15.

She made recommendations on how the bill could be improved for patients detained under the Mental Health Act.

The bill proposes to change the criteria for allowing someone to be detained, so that it can only happen if they pose a risk of ‘serious harm’ to themselves or others.

Kirsty Stuart told the committee:

  • we believe that the amended criteria should also apply to patients involved in criminal proceedings
  • there is insufficient justification for adopting an unequal approach

Kirsty also discussed with the committee government proposals to increase the powers of mental health courts.

Our priority is to ensure that the Mental Health Court – which decides whether a patient can be discharged from hospital – has what it needs to take on the additional responsibilities the government is proposing.

However, we wanted to tell the committee that the proposed increase in the powers of the court will add pressure on the judicial system.

We recommend that when assessing court resources, the government fund legal representatives and independent mental health advocates.

We will continue to monitor the progress of the Mental Health Bill and work to ensure this vital legislation gives patients more say in their care and applies the law on an equal footing.

3. The Chancellor delivers an autumn statement

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt announced £55 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts on Thursday, November 17 as part of the fall statement.

Departmental budgets will remain at the levels set in last year’s spending review, but with inflation projected at over 7% next year, this will equate to a real cut in Justice Department spending.

From 2024, spending will increase by 1% per year in real terms.

We have said that justice spending is being cut in the face of high inflation and that the English and Welsh justice system faces system failure if it is not properly funded.

With the economy deteriorating, the public will need lawyers and legal aid support more than ever as they deal with life-changing issues like homelessness.

The government must ensure that our justice system receives the funding it needs.

Hunt also confirmed that the energy price guarantee will change from April to £3,000. The support for the companies then must be confirmed by the end of this year.

The statement also contained a set of tax changes.

The stamp duty reduction will now only remain in place until March 2025. Income tax thresholds will be frozen and the 45% tax rate threshold will be reduced to £125,140.

A business rate support package was also announced, providing £13.6 billion over the next 5 years. This will:

  • freeze multipliers
  • increase relief for retail, hospitality and leisure to 75% and remove downward caps

The Chancellor also presented the forecast for the economy, with the OBR confirming that the UK is now in recession. GDP will fall by 1.4% and unemployment will rise to 4.9%.

Hunt said the measures he announced would soften the impact of the recession and protect the most vulnerable.

Read our response

4. The Minister of the Interior is criticized

In this week’s Home Office Questions on Monday, November 14, ministers were criticized for the inefficiency of the system for processing asylum claims and Channel crossings.

Interior Minister Suella Braverman said the government was putting in place an “asylum transformation programme” to rebalance the system and modernize it.

She said he was focusing on streamlining and digitizing processes to speed up decision-making.

Regarding a new deal with the French government to work together to tackle Channel crossings, the Home Secretary said she wouldn’t overstate the deal, but it’s about an important step forward and provides a good platform on which to deepen collaboration.

Stuart McDonald (SNP) said Braverman was entirely right to temper his expectations of the French deal, given that ‘previous deals were signed in 2010, 2014, ’15, ’16,’ 18, ’19, ’20 and, indeed, ’21’.

He said only an agreement that includes safe and legal routes can have a meaningful and lasting impact.

Coming

We will work closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries: