Number of solicitors and firms on updated duty solicitor rota declines
The decrease reflects the general decline in lawyers choosing to practice criminal defence
The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has today (18 August) announced which criminal law firms will provide legal advice to people brought in for questioning in police stations via the duty solicitor rotas for October 2022. The number of solicitors has fallen by 9.4 per cent and the number of firms has fallen by 5.4 per cent compared to the current duty rota.
“This is a make-or-break year for the future of the beleaguered criminal justice system,” said Law Society of England and Wales president, I. Stephanie Boyce.
“We will have to wait for the January rota to see the final picture, but it seems clear that the numbers of firms and duty solicitors are not increasing as we would expect after a new tender”.
Boyce said this was “further evidence” that solicitors were increasingly seeing “no future” in criminal defence work, following the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) failure to implement Lord Bellamy QC’s recommended fee increases.
“We are continuing to see the decline of the criminal defence profession and even more duty schemes across the country are reaching the point of collapse. There is no significant body of new firms looking to enter or expand into this market” added Boyce. “Despite some promised increases in legal aid rates by the MoJ, the decline in the number of firms and solicitors in this area of work appears to be deepening.”
The number of firms undertaking criminal defence work has roughly halved in the last 15 years. As of February 2022, there were just 1,062 firms holding a criminal legal aid contract compared with 2,010 in October 2007.
A Law Society survey found only 4 per cent of duty solicitors are aged under 35 and 81 per cent of junior lawyers stated criminal law is not an attractive long-term career.
Many defence solicitors are crossing the courtroom to the Crown Prosecution Service or switching to other areas of the law for better pay and conditions.
Boyce added: “This all reinforces the urgent need for the MoJ to give solicitors the 15 per cent fee increase recommended by Lord Bellamy in the independent review of criminal legal aid.
“A statutory instrument laid in Parliament in July confirmed solicitors will start receiving the long-fought for increases in criminal legal aid rates from the end of September.
“However, the overall package still only amounts to a 9 per cent increase, which simply isn’t enough to turn the tide of solicitors and firms leaving criminal defence work”.
Boyce concluded that defence lawyers were needed “more than ever” to help tackle the “huge” backlog of Crown Court cases, which are causing “unacceptable” delays for victims, witnesses and defendants.