Law Society issues legal justice warning
The Law Society of England and Wales has warned the government that the criminal legal aid system is doomed to spiral into ever greater crisis unless the Ministry of Justice’s plans are urgently rethought.
The Law Society had said that it hoped that the interim proposals from the criminal legal aid review – the ‘accelerated items’ – would provide some urgent relief from the deepening crisis in the criminal legal aid profession but have now rejected any suggestion they are adequate to match the scale of the problem.
Speaking about the matter, Law Society president Simon Davis said:
“We have warned time and again that the very existence of criminal defence practitioners is under threat. Unless the package is adjusted to address the depth and urgency of this crisis, then extinction may be firmly on the horizon.
“There are increasingly large areas of the country where there are no defence solicitors available. The very notion of British justice is in jeopardy – with victims left in limbo and the accused potentially deprived of a fair trial.
“Not only will the shortage of practitioners lead to injustice; it is economically unsound. Defence lawyers help ensure the justice system runs efficiently – and in doing so, save the taxpayer money.”
Simon Davis continued:
“The offer on the table from the government is woefully inadequate. It cannot hope to provide a solution.
“Fewer new solicitors are choosing to enter criminal law as opting for other areas of legal practice is simply more sustainable as a career choice.
“Meanwhile, a recent boost in funding for prosecutors means that many defence lawyers are taking jobs with the Crown Prosecution Service.
“This further diminishes the pool of those capable and able to provide for the defence; a crucial ingredient to ensure that our adversarial system of justice acquits the innocent and convicts the guilty.
“We have demonstrated the urgent need for greater action. The MoJ must overhaul its proposals to reflect the scale and speed of action that is required.
“Firms are withdrawing and collapsing as we speak – in greater numbers than ever before. This may only be an interim plan, pending the full review into the sustainability of the system, but investment is needed now – not in a year’s time.
“The government has an opportunity to pull us back from the brink by improving this package. I hope they choose to take it.”