The Law Society of England and Wales has announced its response to the government’s consultation on criminal legal aid.
Its president I. Stephanie Boyce, said the proposed government funding would not maintain the criminal defence profession to uphold justice.
She stressed: “Our criminal justice system is in crisis. There has been no meaningful increase in criminal legal aid rates of pay in 25 years. Legal aid rates have instead been cut, while also being eroded by inflation.
“Without serious and committed intervention, the viability of our criminal justice system is at risk. Access to legal representation – which is essential to ensure people’s rights are respected, trials are fair, and miscarriages of justice are prevented – will no longer be assured.
“Victims, witnesses, defendants, and wider society will all suffer if the system is unable to ensure prompt, fair trials which convict the guilty and acquit the innocent.
“The independent review commissioned by the government recommended a 15% increase in remuneration for solicitors as a bare minimum to keep the wheels of justice turning, but the government proposals amount to just 9%, which is woefully inadequate.
“This will not reverse the damage to our criminal justice system, persuade young lawyers that they could have a viable career in this sector, prevent the closure of more criminal legal aid firms, or enable the courts backlog to be addressed.
“Criminal courts are crippled by a lack of judges, court staff, prosecutors and defence lawyers. Cases are not progressing as they should, with victims and defendants continuing to face unacceptable delays. If the work remains uneconomic, defence firms will not have the capacity to undertake the increased volume of cases that will be necessary to clear the backlog.”
Only last week, four in five junior lawyers who were surveyed by the Law Society, said that criminal law is not an attractive long-term career.