The Law Society has urged the Lord Chancellor to safeguard the future of criminal legal aid following today’s victory in the High Court.
The Society took the UK government to court after it failed to increase criminal defence solicitors’ legal aid rates by the bare minimum 15%, as recommended by the independent review of criminal legal aid.
Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Jay today (31 January) ruled that the decisions on CLAIR were irrational and that the Lord Chancellor made insufficient enquiries as to the state of the criminal legal aid sector before making them.
The Court observed that it had been presented with an “impressive, compelling, body of evidence” which showed “the system is slowly coming apart at the seams”. “Unless there are significant injections of funding in the relatively near future, any prediction along the lines that the system will arrive in due course at a point of collapse is not overly pessimistic.”
Law Society of England and Wales president Nick Emmerson, said:
“We are delighted the High Court has recognised that then Lord Chancellor, Dominic Raab’s decision was irrational.
“We may have won the court battle but it’s the public who will lose out in custody suites and courtrooms across the country unless the government takes immediate action to stop the exodus of duty solicitors from the profession.”
Emmerson added that 1,400 duty solicitors have left since 2017 ‘because the work is not financially viable’, and added:
“We are already seeing that there simply aren’t enough solicitors to represent suspects at police stations and magistrates’ courts day and night across the country. This situation will only get worse with potentially dangerous consequences for society.
“The imbalance between the defence and the prosecution will continue to grow and public trust in the criminal justice system will continue to fail.”
Mark Davies, Chair of the Law Society’s National Board for Wales and Criminal Lawyer at Goldstones Solicitors, said:
“Todays announcement that The Law Society’s Judicial Review was successful is incredible news. I am aware that my colleagues at The Law Society have worked tirelessly in bringing this challenge.
“It is well documented that the criminal justice system in England and Wales has been severely underfunded for many years by the UK Government. Criminal solicitors are the central to keeping the system going. Today’s achievement by the Law Society cannot be overstated.”
The Law Society now wants the government to ensure that the key recommendation of the independent review – a 15% legal aid rates’ rise – is implemented for solicitors as soon as possible. They must also commit to ensuring that criminal legal aid rates become and remain economically viable in the long term.
“Reversing Raab’s irrational decision would be an important step to demonstrate the government is serious about ensuring that we may once again have a criminal justice system worthy of the name. A system which works effectively and efficiently needs to attract and retain lawyers on both sides to ensure balance between defence and prosecution.”
The Law Society said it will maintain the pressure on the Lord Chancellor to help take the necessary steps to safeguard the future of this ‘crucial’ profession.