Criminal legal aid sector continues to shrink


The Law Society has warned that there may not be enough criminal legal aid solicitors to represent people accused by the state of serious crimes after latest government figures show the sector continuing to shrink.

According to the Ministry of Justice, there are currently 1,080 providers holding a criminal legal aid contract. The number of providers has continuously declined since April 2012, when there were 1,652 criminal legal aid firms.

The figures were revealed in response to a written parliamentary question by shadow legal aid minister Karl Turner MP.

Justice minister James Cartlidge said: ‘The Legal Aid Agency frequently reviews market capacity to make sure there is adequate provision around the country and moves quickly to ensure provision where gaps may appear. Operational system data on the volume of providers holding legal aid contracts at any given time is subject to change due to the internal management and updating of contract schedules, which may impact both real time and historic data.’





  Apr-12 Sep-12 Apr-13 Apr-14 Apr-15 Apr-16 Apr-17 Apr-18 Apr-19 Apr-20 Apr-21 Sep-21

Firms

1,652

1621

1,595

1,513

1,425

1,386

1,310

1,266

1,194

1,154

1,090

1,080

Offices

2,318

2292

2,258

2,142

2,040

1,969

1,981

1,913

1,802

1,717

1,589

1,565

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce warned that if the downward trend continues, ‘in 15 years’ time there could be insufficient numbers of providers with a criminal legal aid contract to represent those accused by the state of serious crimes’.

Law-Society-HQ

She added: ‘With a huge backlog of criminal cases to be heard and increased police numbers predicted to lead to more arrests, criminal defence lawyers are needed more than ever to provide access to justice.

‘Criminal defence is an ageing profession attracting few young lawyers, there are already areas without any duty solicitors available and firms face a talent drain to the Crown Prosecution Service, which prosecutes criminal cases and is able to offer better pay, terms and conditions.

‘The government must provide the investment needed to secure the future of criminal legal aid firms before it is too late.’

The findings of an independent review on criminal legal aid, and the government’s response, are due to be published by the end of this year.



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