The Law Society has asked the High Court for permission to challenge the government’s actions over criminal legal aid reform – declaring that it will do everything in its power to secure a fair deal for solicitors.
Society president Lubna Shuja said Chancery Lane was left with no choice but to seek permission to bring a claim for judicial review after the government rejected a proposal of independent mediation.
The solicitors’ representative body is seeking a judicial review over the government’s response to the independent criminal legal aid review, which was led by Lord Bellamy, who is now a justice minister.
The review, published towards the end of 2021, recommended an immediate 15% uplift for solicitors and barristers. The government published its final response to the review a year later and said solicitor firms would see a total fee increase of around 11%.
By contrast, last July, the government laid a statutory instrument implementing a 15% uplift in legal aid fees for criminal barristers, which would apply to new cases from 30 September. A few weeks later, to halt the criminal bar’s industrial action, the government agreed to apply the 15% uplift to the vast majority of cases in the Crown court backlog.
Last month director of public prosecutions Max Hill KC secured extra cash from HM Treasury to restore parity between prosecution and defence fees. Criminal Bar Association chair Kirsty Brimelow revealed in a ‘Monday Message’ update that the lord chancellor was supportive of the CBA’s argument to increase prosecution fees.
Hill is believed to have received £30m to restore parity between prosecution and defence fees. Shuja told the House of Commons justice committee in January that £30m was needed to fill the gap between the government’s offer to solicitors and the review’s 15% recommendation.
Shuja said today: ‘The government found the money for defence and prosecution barristers but is short-changing solicitors, who are the backbone of the criminal justice system. Lord Bellamy described their situation as more “parlous” and the rates for the work they do are stuck in a mid-90s time-warp.
‘The criminal justice system is collapsing around us due to wholly inadequate government investment and irrational policy-making. The Law Society will do everything in our power to get a fair deal for defence solicitors and ensure access to justice for all.’
This article is now closed for comment.
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