News In Focus
"Extinction" warning over England & Wales defence solicitors
Criminal defence lawyers south of the border could become extinct, the Law Society of England & Wales is warning as new data show a "looming crisis" in the number of defence solicitors.
The Society published a "heatmap" showing that across Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, West Wales and Mid-Wales, more than 60% of criminal law solicitors are aged over 50, compared with an average across the whole profession of 27%.
In Norfolk, Suffolk, Cornwall and Worcestershire there are no criminal law solicitors aged under 35, with only one each in West Wales and Mid-Wales, and two in Devon.
Society President Joe Egan predicted that if the trend continued, in five to 10 years’ time there could be insufficient criminal defence solicitors to meet arrested suspects' rights to legal advice and prevent allegations of police misconduct.
Legal aid spending in England & Wales has been cut even more severely than in Scotland, where some solicitors have refused to take part in the police station duty scheme under the new law regarding arrest and advice for suspects as they believe it involves an additional commitment they cannot afford for the fees on offer.
"The justice system is facing a cliff edge scenario; criminal duty solicitors are part of an increasingly aging profession, and Government cuts mean there are not enough young lawyers entering the field of criminal defence work", Mr Egan said.
"Twenty years without any increases in fees, and a series of drastic cuts have pushed the criminal justice system to the point where lawyers can no longer see a viable career doing this work.
"Access to independent, expert legal advice is an important right which ensures fair access to justice. If a suspect cannot access free advice and representation, a fair trial would be jeopardised, and cases would collapse.
"The Law Society is calling on the Government to take action and conduct an economic review of the long-term viability of the criminal legal aid system and to guarantee that criminal legal aid fees will rise with inflation."
Click here to view the heatmap.