Criminal legal aid fee review – MoJ backtracks on recommended minimum increase

The Government has rejected its own recommendations to increase Legal Aid fees by a minimum15 per cent, sparking widespread outrage from criminal law solicitors.

The author of the Criminal Legal Aid Independent Review (CLAIR) report, Lord Bellamy KC who is now minister for the MoJ in the House of Lords, had stated a 15 per cent increase in Legal Aid fees was the “minimum necessary as the first step in nursing the system of criminal legal aid back to health after years of neglect”.

Instead – and apparently ignoring its own earlier advice – the MoJ has put forward a package that will see an increase in fees of 11 per cent for criminal legal aid solicitors.

This increase would not be immediate and would see fees rise by only 9 per cent in 2023 with an increase to 11 per cent in 2024 alongside a restructuring of the Litigators Graduated Fee Scheme and other fee schemes.

The President of the Law Society, Lubna Shuja, has since met with the Lord Chancellor and pressed him on the pressures facing the criminal justice system, arguing that the measures represent “a real-terms cut on fees that have been frozen since the 1990s”.

Ms Shuja said: “Numbers of duty solicitors and criminal legal aid firms continue to fall at an alarming rate – with several police station schemes on the verge of collapse… The [CLAIR] was the last hope that the Ministry of Justice would take the crisis seriously and that there could be a viable future in criminal defence practice for our members.

“Instead, Raab has thrown down a gauntlet to the profession. This reckless decision not only puts many of our members’ futures in jeopardy, it is likely to prove to be a fatal blow to a criminal justice system that used to be the envy of the world.”

Whilst the Law Society is prevented by law from encouraging solicitors to strike, Ms Shuja has warned that it is now considering a legal challenge to the MoJ’s decision.

For expert business advice and information to support your firm’s financial health, please contact us.