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A continued decline in legal aid revealed by latest MoJ figures 

By February 16, 2022Government, People

As recent government figures reveal that the legal aid sector continues to shrink, time is limited for the lord chancellor to commit to significantly increase legal aid funding, or otherwise face a possible strike by the criminal bar.

If the government fails to take action by Monday to accelerate its response to the criminal legal aid review, which suggests an additional £135m a year to help the system return to its former status, the Criminal Bar Association will ballot members on action.

In his most recent update, CBA chair Jo Sidhu QC, noted that over the past 20 days since hundreds of criminal barristers indicated their eagerness to take action if the government fails to proceed quicker, Dominic Raab‘has responded with nothing other than deafening silence’.

The government has pledged to respond to Sir Christopher Bellamy’s advice by the end of March. However, Sidhu commented that the government did not need an additional three months, after their response, to seek, ‘a timetable that pushes us to the end of June’.

He further noted: ‘If you thought that prospect was depressing enough, then you certainly will not welcome a further update from officials at the MoJ who tell us that, in the wake of the consultation, government will need until the end of September 2022 before any necessary statutory instrument can be drafted and brought into effect’.

With numbers having fallen since 2012, reform is urgently needed for the criminal legal aid sector. The amount of firms with a criminal legal aid contract dipped from 1,080 last September to 1,067 last month; for civil legal aid, the number dropped from 1,401 to 1,381 over the same period of time. 

Stephanie Boyce, Law Society president I. commented: ‘We are continuing to see the number of firms with criminal and civil legal aid contracts falling. This further illustrates what Sir Christopher Bellamy, chair of the independent review of criminal legal aid, described at the justice select committee as the “parlous state” of criminal defence solicitors.

‘On the civil side, our heat maps have shown the growth of advice deserts. Investing in civil legal advice can nip problems in the bud and save significant expenditure in other public budgets.

‘We would urge the Ministry of Justice to follow through on its commitment to address the sustainability of the civil legal aid system, as well as implementing the recommendations of Sir Christopher’s review as soon as possible.’

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