Owners from more than 150 Criminal Legal Aid Contract Holders signed up to attend a hybrid meeting on 8th November 2022. Firms of all sizes from across the country were represented in an unprecedented display of unity. We discussed the evolving crisis in the provision of criminal legal aid services and the need to speak to government with a unified voice. In the context of this crisis, the Law Society has advised its members not to undertake work that is financially unviable. Regulated firms and solicitors have a duty to run their practices in a financially sustainable manner to uphold the SRA Principles.
The market for the provision of criminal legal aid work is currently in free-fall. The number of firms with criminal legal aid contracts is at an historic low, as is the number of duty solicitors on duty schemes across the country. The increasing gap between capacity and workload is forcing firms to triage cases and ration services. The current fee levels are insufficient to allow firms to offer the required level of remuneration to attract new trainees into the market, and to prevent duty solicitors from moving into other areas of law, or to better-funded organisations that can offer better remuneration packages, such as the CPS. Without new solicitors entering criminal law, then market failure, especially in the most vulnerable areas of the country, is simply a matter of time.
The attendees of the meeting therefore:
- Call on the Lord Chancellor to, in the upcoming response in relation to the Criminal Legal Aid Independent Review (CLAIR), lauded by the current Lord Chancellor in his statement of December 17, 2021, implement the minimum recommendations made by Sir Chris Bellamy; that being a 15% increase on all criminal legal aid fees, including LGFS and Prison Law.
- Indicated that, should the Government fail to implement the minimum recommendation of CLAIR in its upcoming response, and within the context of the Law Society’s advice to contract holders, each firm will have no choice but to cease to undertake work that is financially unsustainable for their practice, potentially leaving vulnerable defendants without the benefit of legal representation.
- Decided to create a formal structure (a Criminal Legal Aid Contractors Association) to provide a unified voice for providers. The primary aim of the new organisation will be to engage with the MoJ and LAA on behalf of its members in relation to the terms of future Criminal Legal Aid Contracts.
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