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"Extinction" warning over England & Wales defence solicitors

18 April 2018

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.

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Nigel Boddy

Saturday April 21, 2018, 07:06

The crisis is far more serious. There are massive cuts in police budgets. The police are being placed under increasing pressure not to arrest people. Suspects are invited in for a chat at the police station facing very serious allegations. They are then kept on bail for up to a year in their own communities whilst matters are supposed to be investigated. When suspects are eventually charged and sent to court the victims and witnesses to these offences have had to see the suspect loose in their community for about a year. How intimidating is that? Their memories of the situation have faded in that time.

If offences are listed for trial they are often double or even triple listed.

Witnesses are being asked to come to court and give evidence, sit all day waiting to be heard and are eventually told to go home. They have to come back at some future date. Many court buildings are being closed down and witnesses are being asked to travel greater distances to give evidence.

The root problem is the Home Office and the MOJ embarked on a policy of privatising all the prisons under these new PFI contracts. When they are charged for prison places they are being charged now astronomical sums of money by these newly privatised prisons. They have underestimated the number of places needed dramatically and the prisons are now full. No new places are available for about two years. Even then they will be massively expensive. This is all because the MOJ and the Home Office thought they were going to outwit the POA, the Prison Officers Union. If they'd just paid them a decent living wage none of this needed to happen.

So you end up with the ludicrous situation where the Parole Board actually have to consider releasing the London taxi driver Warboys just because the prisons are full to bursting. These new private prisons are just turning round and saying they won't take any more prisoners in.