Number of legal aid funded criminal law firms falls by a third

Campaigners have called on the Government to increase Legal Aid funding as the number of criminal law firms with a legal aid contract falls by a third.

The figures, published by the Law Society for England and Wales, show that there were just 1,080 legal aid funded criminal law firms in September 2021, compared to 1,386 firms in April 2016.

The number of trainee solicitors specialising in criminal law is also falling, according to the report, while those that do are defecting to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which can offer better pay, terms and conditions.

It means that demand for legal aid funded criminal law services could soon exceed supply, resulting in service ‘black spots’ across the UK.

Commenting on the figures, Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “If this trend continues, in 15 years’ time there could be insufficient numbers of providers with a criminal legal aid contract to represent those accused by the state of serious crimes.

“Criminal defence is an ageing profession attracting few young lawyers, there are already areas without any duty solicitors available and firms face a talent drain to the Crown Prosecution Service.

“The government must provide the investment needed to secure the future of criminal legal aid firms before it is too late.”

A separate study, published earlier this year, also found regional discrepancies in access to legal services, particularly in housing, welfare, education, community care and immigration.

Eight in 10 (79 per cent) people across England and Wales, for example, do not have access to a local welfare legal aid provider, while almost seven in 10 (67 per cent) do not have access to a local community care legal aid provider.

The legal aid ‘desert maps’ can be found here.

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