'Stop dragging your feet': Society's criminal legal aid demand ahead of Chalk meeting

The Law Society has told the government to ‘stop dragging its feet’ over criminal legal aid fees ahead of a meeting with lord chancellor Alex Chalk on Monday.

The meeting will be taking place three months after Chancery Lane declared victory in its High Court challenge against the government over the decision not to raise fees by the minimum 15% recommended by the Bellamy review on criminal legal aid in 2021.

Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Jay said in their 61-page judgment that evidence filed by frontline practitioners showed ‘women and men working up and down the country at all hours of the day and night, in difficult and stressful circumstances, carrying out an essential service which depends to a large extent on their goodwill and sense of public duty’. The judges were ‘troubled…by the depressing evidential picture depicted by the Law Society and interested parties’.

Ahead of Monday’s meeting, Society president Nick Emmerson said: ‘The government is dragging its feet despite the urgency of the situation in the criminal justice system. The government is failing on crime. The number of firms and solicitors doing criminal legal aid work continues to fall with knock-on effects across the wider justice system. Police investigations are impacted as there are not enough solicitors to represent the accused, while prosecution recruitment is also hit as the cohort of young defence solicitors the Crown Prosecution Service used to attract continues to shrink.

‘Our latest research shows only 49% of people are aware legal aid is available for issues relating to crime. Having access to defence lawyers is integral to our adversarial justice system. Without a functioning defence profession, any talk of increasing prosecutions, cutting the backlogs and improving justice for victims is fanciful.’

Emmerson wants Chalk to demonstrate on Monday that he was taking the High Court’s judgment seriously ‘by making a commitment to inject immediate funding into criminal legal aid. A clear timeline also needs to be set for stabilising the future of the criminal defence profession. Urgent action is needed now to tackle the very real crisis our criminal justice system is currently in’.

The Ministry of Justice is currently analysing responses to its consultation on boosting police station fees by £16m.

A spokesperson for the ministry said: ‘Defence solicitors play a crucial role ensuring everyone is treated fairly in our justice system which is why we recently announced proposals that would see an extra £21m each year invested in criminal legal aid lawyers. We also expect our existing reforms to increase spending on criminal legal aid by up to £141m a year.’


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