Skip to main content

Criminal Legal Aid: Independent Review

Volume 687: debated on Thursday 14 January 2021

Following the accelerated package of measures amending the criminal legal aid fee schemes announced in August, I announced that the next phase of the criminal legal aid review would involve an independently led review. On 21 December 2020, I published the terms of reference for that review, and announced via press notice that it would be chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy QC. I am today following up that announcement.

The first phase of the criminal legal aid review has delivered up to £51 million to practitioners, and the independently led review will build on the data and insights collected so far. It will be far reaching in scope, assessing the criminal legal aid market in its entirety; the service being provided, how it is procured and how it is administered. It will develop and continue the original aims of the first phase of the criminal legal aid review.

Over the last few years, concerns have been raised about the long-term sustainability of criminal legal aid. Against this backdrop, and the impact of the covid-19 pandemic, it is important that we do what is necessary to ensure the criminal legal aid system is efficient, effective, and sustainable.

The ultimate objective for the criminal legal aid system is to provide legal advice and representation to those who need it, in line with my statutory duty to ensure legal aid is made available in order to ensure and uphold access to justice. This objective will provide the foundation for the review’s analysis and recommendations. The review will aim to ensure that defendants receive high-quality advice and representation from a diverse set of practitioners, both now and in the future, while also making sure that the criminal legal aid system is sustainable and provides value for money to the taxpayer and contributes to the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system. The themes and objectives of the review are outlined in detail in the terms of reference, which I have placed in the Library of the House.

The review will be chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy QC. Sir Christopher is a former judge with a wealth of legal experience. He has recently stepped down as chairman of Linklaters global competition practice and joined Monckton Chambers to focus on mediation and arbitration. Sir Christopher will lead a dedicated review team within Government which will support him as he delivers the review’s recommendations.

I am working to establish an expert advisory panel as soon as possible who will provide support to the review by testing and challenging the review’s analysis and recommendations. The panel will be composed of individuals with a range of backgrounds, skills and experience that will aid the review in its analysis of the criminal legal aid system.

The review will report this year and the Ministry of Justice will aim to publish the report, alongside the Government’s response, by the end of 2021.