When is 15% not 15% ?

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When the government announced that it was going to conduct an Independent Criminal Legal Aid Review there was the traditional, and well-earned scepticism around many in the profession who had experienced so many false dawns over their professional careers that they knew the government would find a way to snatch defeat from jaws of victory.

When the Criminal Legal Aid Review (as it was then known) was announced in December 2018 it was after the stellar work from the Law Society on heat maps had the government realising something was very wrong in the legal aid profession. What followed were meeting after meeting where newly appointed Civil Servants tried to understand the nature and scope of the problem and why the industry was literarily and metaphorically dying. CLAR was it then was, was announced to much fanfare as the best way to provide the evidence base to allow proper discussions with the Ministers and the Treasury. The government said this :

“The Criminal Justice System has transformed significantly in the last few years and our need to respond to this has, in some instances, been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe this is the right time to continue to consider how to build a more modern Criminal Legal Aid System that can adapt to the changing needs of defendants, practitioners and the criminal justice system of which it is such an integral part.

We remain committed to the sustainability of the criminal legal aid system now and in the future and to ensuring the criminal defence profession remains an attractive career proposition for future practitioners.”

The professional associations including the CLSA, LCCSA and of course the Law Society made it plain from the outset that any review would take too long, and that urgent action as needed.

We were right.

CLAR became CLAIR and was split into the Independent Review and an internal review. We have heard very little on the latter, and as to the former, Sir Christopher was appointed, with the approval of the Treasury and government department, to review the sustainability of the Criminal Legal Aid sector.

His excellent report made the position plain :

“I take the view that the Review is about much more than the remuneration of defence lawyers, it is also about the effectiveness of the CJS as a whole. The adversarial system of the CJS cannot function without the defence. If the providers of criminal legal aid defence were to fail or be substantially weakened, the CJS as a whole would grind to a halt, with obvious adverse consequences, not least in the context of reducing the back-log. Moreover, criminal legal aid does not merely support the defence: it is the cradle of many barristers who also prosecute, and of solicitors and others who later join the CPS, or other authorities who need criminal law expertise. Criminal legal aid also provides the training ground for many who later become judges. The view has been expressed to the Review that, as it is, there are not enough criminal lawyers to go round.”

What did the Review recommend? Continue reading here