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Criminal Legal Aid

Volume 720: debated on Wednesday 12 October 2022

Since I became Lord Chancellor, I have been keen to resolve the dispute with the Criminal Bar Association, in order get the criminal justice system working again. To that end, my officials and I have been holding constructive discussions on a package of proposals with the Bar Council and the CBA. This package was agreed as part of our overall response to the criminal legal aid independent review consultation.

I am pleased to announce that the CBA membership has now voted in favour of my offer on criminal legal aid, and has agreed to come back to work.

As a result, my Department laid a statutory instrument on 11 October which will mean the recent fee uplift for new cases claimable by litigators and advocates will also now apply to the vast majority of existing cases in the backlog where the main hearing takes place after the commencement of the instrument on 31 October 2022. This equates to an additional investment of £28 million in the fee scheme for advocates and £14 million in the fee scheme for litigators over the spending review period.

My Department will also make an additional £3 million of funding available for case preparation, such as written work and special preparation, as well as a further £4 million for defence barristers involved in pre-recorded cross-examinations, which are used to reduce the trauma of a trial for vulnerable victims and witnesses by early 2023.

The Ministry of Justice is proposing a further £5 million uplift per year for fees in the youth court, from the 2024-25 financial year, which is expected to particularly benefit both solicitors and some junior barristers.

A new criminal legal aid advisory board on criminal legal aid reform will also be created and hold its first meeting in October. This board will discuss the operation of the criminal legal aid system and make recommendations to the Lord Chancellor.

In addition to this, the Government will respond to the remaining elements of the above consultation by the end of November, including further reforms directed at solicitors. As was made clear by Lord Bellamy in his review, the profession of criminal legal aid solicitors requires immediate attention, and I am keen to work to provide further reforms and support.

I look forward to working constructively with criminal legal aid practitioners on criminal justice issues, including working to drive down court backlogs and resolve cases sooner.

After all, we share the same aim: putting the criminal justice system on a more sustainable footing for the future, to support victims and everyone who relies on our justice system.