Some 90% of firms are 'generally pessimistic' about the state of the criminal sector, citing ageing solicitors, sector shrinkage and the rising number of out of court disposals, according to a survey by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

In the SRA’s thematic review of criminal advocacy, just four of the 40 sample firms were satisfied with the sector as it currently stands. Almost a quarter said that criminal law is an ageing profession and that not enough solicitors are entering the sector.

Other firms said criminal defence lawyers are seen in a ‘negative light’ and that the criminal justice system concentrates ‘on speed and cost, at the expense of justice’.

The report revealed that while 49% of all solicitors are 25-30 years old, only 31% of criminal solicitors fall in that age bracket. Meanwhile, 11% of criminal solicitors are 55-64 years of age, compared to 7% of all solicitors.

The SRA said: ‘The diversity data suggests that the lack of new entrants is an issue not just for our sample of firms but for criminal practice generally.’

The review also noted a ‘steep decline’ in the size of the sector from 2012 onwards, when the number of firms fell by 12% in three years.

The SRA said: ‘Firms and practitioners are leaving the sector and are not being replaced. This naturally has implications for our priority risk of access to justice. A ready supply of practitioners is vital for the criminal justice system to operate, both at police stations and at court.’