Ministers face legal battle with criminal lawyers over legal assistance | legal aid

Ministers could face a legal battle over their refusal to raise legal aid fees for criminal defense lawyers in England and Wales to the minimum recommended in an independent review.

The Law Society, the professional body for lawyers, alleges that there was an “illegal and unreasonable” failure to implement the minimum 15% increase recommended by Christopher Bellamy as necessary to sustain the future of the criminal justice system.

He filed a lawsuit after notifying the government in a pre-action letter sent to Attorney General Dominic Raab in January that he would go to the high court if he did not reconsider the decision.

Lubna Shuja, president of the Law Society, said she had no choice but to take legal action after Raab, who also holds the posts of Lord Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister, refused to budge and rejected an offer of mediation to solve the problem. “The government has failed to satisfactorily address the serious concerns we have raised about the collapse of the criminal legal aid sector after years of chronic underfunding,” she said.

“Therefore, we have asked the high court for permission to challenge the government’s implementation of the recommendations made in the Independent Industry Review.

“We believe that the UK Government’s decision not to increase legal aid rates for criminal defense lawyers by the recommended minimum of 15% is illegal and unreasonable. It had, and will continue to have, dire consequences for access to justice and jeopardizes the future of the criminal justice system.”

The Law Society says more than 1,000 on-call lawyers, who provide representation and advice to people detained by the police, have left the job since 2017. It predicts that by 2025 there will be 19% fewer on-duty lawyers and 150 fewer firms providing criminal legal assistance work (down 16%).

Last year, the government agreed to a 15% increase in legal aid fees for criminal defense lawyers for most Crown court cases after they started the first open-ended strike in their history. The same salary increase was granted to prosecution lawyers last month.

The Law Society was angered that the lawyers were not given parity. He believes its members cannot legally strike, but has threatened to advise them not to take up criminal defense work.

Shuja said: “The government has found the money for the defense and prosecution lawyers, but it is cheating the lawyers, who are the backbone of the criminal justice system. Lord Bellamy has described their situation as more ‘dangerous’ and the rates for the work they do are stuck in a mid-90s period.

skip the newsletter promotion

“The criminal justice system is collapsing all around us due to grossly inadequate government investment and irrational policies. The Law Society will do everything in its power to obtain a fair deal for defense attorneys and ensure access to justice for all.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “We expect our criminal legal aid reforms to increase investment in the legal profession by £85m every year, including an increase of more than 15% in fees for lawyers to work in police stations and magistrates’ courts. It would be inappropriate to comment further on the ongoing legal action.”

Leave a Comment