As the Ministry of Justice’s independent review of the future and long-term sustainability of the criminal legal aid system goes on, The Law Society and legal firm chiefs have been vocal in calls for the criminal defence profession to be adequately funded as an outcome or risk the collapse of equal justice.
The purpose of the independent review, chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy QC, is to explore the fundamental principles of fee schemes for criminal legal aid. The review forms part of the wider Criminal Legal Aid Review, which has already culminated in up to £51 million per year in new payments for the sector. It is hoped that the initiative will help maintain the status of criminal defence as an attractive career option for legal practitioners now and in the future.
These concerns have also been echoed by leading figures within legal practices across the UK. Paul Millan [pictured, second from left], founding partner at one criminal, civil and family law firm, Noble Solicitors, described the situation with legal aid funding as a “drought” exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Millan told The Parliamentary Review: “Over the last year, the sustainability of the legal aid model which has for years been under pressure, came under even greater threat due to the reduced number of court hours caused by the Covid-19 crisis.
“The demise in some categories, such as reduced Crown Court sittings and decimation of legal aid fee structures at the police stations and magistrates’ courts, has brought the provision of equal justice to the brink of collapse.”
Millan then went further, urging the independent review of criminal legal aid to also address the inequalities faced by suppliers and legal aid barristers across the country.
“Without this action being taken, we cannot have a sustainable, diverse and flexible market-place – and a fair criminal justice system. In order for the legal aid system to be viable, it will need to be properly funded and resourced including dealing with the looming recruitment crisis, as many continue to retire from this area of work.”
A final report from the independent review is expected before the end of the year.