Row over fees looks set to escalate
The Law Society has applied to the High Court for permission to challenge the government’s actions over criminal legal aid reform, it confirmed this morning.
The solicitors’ representative body said it had been forced to seek permission to bring a claim for judicial review after the government “failed to satisfactorily address” the concerns it raised about the criminal legal aid, and had subsequently declined the offer of independent mediation to resolve the issue.
The Law Society’s legal move follows an independent review that recommended an immediate 15% fee increase as “the minimum necessary as the first step in nursing the system of criminal legal aid back to health after years of neglect”.
Last October, criminal barristers suspended their strike action after narrowly accepting the government’s offer of a 15% pay rise. By contrast, the government said solicitors would only see a total fee increase of around 11%.
“We believe UK government’s decision not to increase criminal defence solicitors’ legal aid rates by the recommended minimum 15% is both unlawful and irrational,” Law Society president Lubna Shuja said. “It has had, and will continue to have, dire consequences for access to justice and puts the future of the criminal justice system in jeopardy.”
“The government has repeatedly failed to take the crisis seriously and has rejected our proposal of independent mediation as a way forward,” Shuja continued. “This leaves us with no choice but to seek permission to bring our claim.”
A survey undertaken by the Law Society last year found that a whopping 81% of junior lawyers were reluctant to peruse a long-term career in crime, with low pay, long hours and poor work/life balance among the reasons cited by respondents.