LCCSA News, Legal Aid

The Law Society’s Judicial Review of the Lord Chancellor’s response to the Bellamy report on legal aid funding.

PUBLISHED December 12, 2023

Today is the first day of the hearing of The Law Society’s Judicial Review of the Lord Chancellor’s response to the Bellamy report on legal aid funding.

We are proud to support The Law Society’s claim as interested parties, and have submitted evidence in the case to demonstrate the effect that years of cuts and underfunding have had on the working lives of criminal legal aid defence solicitors.

Firms are paid so little to do legal aid cases that they must take on increasing volumes of work in order to stay afloat, but it is impossible to achieve economies of scale if the work is inherently unprofitable. Increased volumes of work for diminishing financial returns, coupled with the rising cost of living, mean that experienced and highly qualified solicitors are leaving the profession at an alarming rate, with no young talent coming in to replace them and the younger generation of talent we do have finding it increasingly difficult financially to consider legal aid criminal defence as a long-term career option. It is a perfect storm that has been years in the making, but which has been at best ignored and at worst encouraged by successive governments.

The government’s response to the Bellamy proposals was wholly inadequate to meet the challenges that face the criminal legal aid system so clearly outlined in the report. The recommendation was for an immediate minimum 15% increase to all legal aid fees, amounting to roughly £ 100 million in additional funding. This sum was described in the report as the “bare minimum needed to nurse the patient back to health”.

Despite this very clear recommendation and the stark terms in which it was made, the government chose not to implement it. Instead, it increased funding by approximately 11%, or £74 million, an amount which has now been significantly swallowed up by inflation.

For these reasons we support The Law Society’s case that the government’s implementation of the proposals is so poor as to be unlawful. We do so in the hope that the government can be persuaded by the courts to do the right thing by providing a legal aid funding settlement that ensures the continued viability of firms that undertake this vital work that is so fundamental to the continued functioning of the rule of law in this country.

The interested parties are represented at the hearing by Adam Wagner of Doughty Street Chambers.