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Criminal justice system at 'breaking point'

18 June 2019

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The criminal justice system is on the brink of collapse after a decade of underfunding and needs urgent intervention, a Law Society report has concluded.

The Society has called for a criminal legal aid task force made up of solicitors, barristers, prosecutors and the judiciary to help improve the system.

The report uncovers a system at breaking point with every part of the process floundering, resulting in injustice and preventing access to justice.

Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said: “Unsurprisingly, it is those on lower and middle incomes who bear the greatest burden.”

A significant pressure highlighted by the report is the growing shortage of criminal duty solicitors who are on average 47 years old.

Blacklaws warned that in five years there could be areas where there will no longer be access to a duty solicitor.

Bill Waddington, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association said: “We’ve been saying much the same thing for many years. The criminal justice system needs an urgent injection of money to stop the rot.

“All kinds of things have conspired together: court closure programmes, lack of investment, means testing that hasn’t changed for over a decade, a recruitment crisis because young lawyers are simply not attracted to legal aid work: they cannot see a future in it and so we are left with an ageing profession with no succession.”

He said respective governments do not see any votes in legal aid and have cut away for years to the point where we are now on the brink of collapse.

“Access to justice is a basic human right, like access to health care and to education, and should be available to all, not just those with mean”, he added.

Key recommendations

The Society is calling on government to adopt 11 recommendations, including uprating the legal aid means test in line with inflation as a matter of urgency. It also recommends abolishing ‘warned’, ‘block’ and ‘floating’ court lists to deal with court delays and providing suitable remuneration for expert lawyers, such as enhanced payments for youth work. It is also calling for the Legal Aid Agency to review the Defence Solicitor Call Centre service.

 

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Ethics, professionalism and judgement Crime Legal Aid