A £16m injection into police station fees is a ‘drop in the ocean’ of what is needed to safeguard the criminal legal aid system, the Law Society has said.

Responding to a Ministry of Justice consultation on how to distribute the £16m, the Society said high inflation reduced any potential beneficial impact of the extra cash and the £16m was insufficient to address the recruitment, retention and sustainability issues identified by Lord Bellamy’s criminal legal aid review in 2021.

Noting a ‘complete absence’ of any correlation between the police stations that get an increase and those that have low numbers [of duty solicitors], the Society said Bath police station has three firms on the rota and gets a 1% fee increase whichever policy option the ministry settles on. Dolgellau has one duty solicitor and gets a 3% or 4% increase. Hinckley/Market Harborough has two duty solicitors and gets no increase. Bristol, on the other hand, has 45 duty solicitors and gets a 21% or 23% increase. Coventry has 31 solicitors and gets a 26% or 28% increase.

No attempt had been made to correct the fundamental problem of current fees being based on data 15 years out of date, the Society said. ‘This means that using the current fixed fees as the basis for the supposed "restructure" simply bakes in years of underfunding, which fail to take account of the many ways in which the costs of a police station case in 2024 differs from one when these fixed fees were set.’

Society president Nick Emmerson described the £16m as a 'drop in the ocean' for what is needed to safeguard the criminal legal aid sector. ‘The High Court noted in its judgment of the Society’s judicial review that “the system is slowly coming apart at the seams",' he said. 


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