The legal profession is urging the Ministry of Justice to think again on early disclosure plans or risk them failing before they even begin. Groups representing criminal defenders, including the Law Society of England, have written to the lord chancellor calling for restrictions on payments to solicitors for pre-charge engagement with police or prosecutors to be lifted.
The pre-charge engagement scheme, which begins today, is designed to make it easier for a defendant or their solicitor to bring information that may assist their case to the attention of police and prosecutors. However Law Society president I Stephanie Boyce said that the scheme as currently set up requires solicitors to work unpaid.
'The rationale for this scheme is sound but defence solicitors were assured they would be paid for the additional work it entails,' said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce. 'That work necessarily includes getting instructions from the client, examining relevant evidence and advising the client whether or not to take part in pre-charge engagement.
'However, solicitors will not be paid for this preliminary work as, under the scheme the Ministry of Justice has devised, payments will only kick in if and when they begin engaging with police or prosecutors, and only for work done after that point.'
Opportunities to save public money by bringing cases to an early close will inevitably be missed because defence practitioners 'simply cannot take on even more unpaid work', Boyce said. 'The Ministry of Justice urgently needs to think again or there is a danger the pre-charge engagement scheme will fail before it even begins.'
The letter was signed by the Big Firms Group, Black Solicitors Network, Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, the Law Society, the Society's Junior Lawyers Division, London Criminal Court Solicitors’ Association, Legal Aid Practitioners Group, Society of Asian Lawyers and Young Legal Aid Lawyers, Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates.