Law Society urges lord chancellor to rethink legal aid or face judicial review
Government's 'irrational policy-making' has wide consequences for criminal justice system, Law Society warns
The Law Society has urged the lord chancellor to either rethink his decision not to increase criminal legal aid rates by the recommended bare minimum or face a judicial review.
In 2021, an independent review of criminal legal aid, led by Christopher Bellamy KC, recommended an immediate increase in rates of at least 15 per cent.
The government has instead put forward its own package of reforms that includes a gradual fee increase for criminal legal aid solicitors of 11 per cent by 2024.
The Law Society has sent a pre-action letter to the government which challenges its decision-making as unlawful and irrational.
Law Society president, Lubna Shuja, said: “We argue the lord chancellor’s decision not to remunerate solicitors by the bare minimum 15 per cent, which the independent review said was needed immediately over a year ago to prevent the collapse of the criminal defence sector, is unlawful, as is the decision not to take action to address the risk of local market failure.”
The Law Society has urged the government to withdraw its decisions. It will issue a judicial review seeking an order to quash them if the government declines to reconsider.
Shuja said: “The government is choosing to ignore the economic advice and analysis which Lord Bellamy’s review team painstakingly produced, using data the government itself supplied. Instead, the government is implementing policies that run against the rationality of the review it commissioned and accepted.”
The government’s “irrational policy-making’’ will have wide consequences for the small businesses operating in the criminal defence sector, the criminal justice system as a whole and thousands of victims and defendants seeking justice, Shuja said.
She added: “A rational policy path was identified in Lord Bellamy’s comprehensive review and largely accepted, including 15 per cent for barristers, but then the key recommendation affecting solicitors – who were viewed as being in the most ‘parlous state’ – was rejected.
“The Lord Chancellor failed to provide any reasons for ignoring that key recommendation even though there was a legitimate expectation that such reasons would be given. Without reasons, we can only conclude that decision is irrational.”
The Law Society has proposed alternative dispute resolution of the proposed litigation, with independent mediation by a senior lawyer or former judge.