Raab faces judicial review over criminal legal aid fees

The Law Society has issued an ultimatum to lord chancellor Dominic Raab over criminal legal aid fees: increase them by the minimum amount recommended by the government-commissioned Bellamy review or face a judicial review.

The Bellamy review, published towards the end of 2021, recommended an immediate 15% uplift in fees for solicitors and barristers as soon as possible. Publishing the government’s final response a year later, the Ministry of Justice said solicitor firms would see a total fee increase of around 11%. Today, Chancery Lane said it has sent a pre-action letter to the government.

Society president Lubna Shuja said: ‘We argue the lord chancellor’s decision not to remunerate solicitors by the bare minimum 15%, which the independent review said was needed immediately over a year ago to prevent the collapse of the criminal defence sector, is unlawful, as is the decision not to take action to address the risk of local market failure.

‘We are seeking a commitment by the government to withdraw both decisions and reconsider them within a mutually agreed timetable. If not, we will issue a judicial review seeking an order to quash them.’

Lubna Shuja

The Society argues that the government’s decisions are inconsistent with the constitutional right to access to justice.

Shuja said: ‘The government is choosing to ignore the economic advice and analysis which Lord Bellamy’s review team painstakingly produced, using data the government itself supplied. Instead, the government is implementing policies that run against the rationality of the review it commissioned and accepted. This irrational policy-making will have wide consequences for the small businesses operating in the criminal defence sector, the criminal justice system as a whole and thousands of victims and defendants seeking justice.

‘What is so frustrating is that a rational policy path was identified in Lord Bellamy’s comprehensive review and largely accepted, including 15% for barristers, but then the key recommendation affecting solicitors – who were viewed as being in the most ‘parlous state’ – was rejected.’

The lord chancellor failed to provide any reasons for ignoring the Bellamy review’s key recommendation even though there was a legitimate expectation that such reasons would be given, Shuja added.

‘We have proposed alternative dispute resolution of the proposed litigation be attempted with independent mediation by an appropriately experienced senior lawyer or former judge.’


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