The government’s review of criminal legal aid has done little to combat the inequality between prosecutors and defence providers, junior lawyers have said, warning of a ‘slow bleed’ in criminal justice caused by low pay and government cuts.
Responding to a Ministry of Justice consultation on fees, the Junior Lawyers Division say criminal legal aid work is not a sustainable career and young solicitors are ‘genuinely struggling on a day-to-day basis’.
‘The accelerated measures represented an opportunity to inject much needed money into the criminal legal aid schemes; the measures do not go far enough. Whilst we appreciate the impact of Covid-19, the reality is the MOJ has made little progress regarding the Criminal Legal Aid Review. We assume it will not report by the summer of 2020.’
The JLD adds that ‘large numbers’ of junior lawyers who had been practising in criminal legal aid work have switched to work for the Crown Prosecution Service following its recent recruitment drive.
‘The JLD requests, in the strongest of terms, that the MOJ increase the rate of remuneration having regards to criminal legal aid, and index link it to inflation. If the MOJ does nothing, it will de facto default on its obligation to provide a criminal defence service and access to justice for the public.’
The MOJ is currently consulting on criminal legal aid fees and unveiled its first tranche of proposals in February. Up to £50m is due to be injected into the system, a sum which the Law Society has described as ‘woefully inadequate’.