England: Law Society seeks judicial review of legal aid failures
The Law Society of England and Wales has been granted permission by the High Court to bring a judicial review challenge against the UK government over legal aid.
The application for permission was made after the government failed to increase criminal defence solicitors’ legal aid rates by the bare minimum 15 per cent, as recommended by Lord Bellamy’s independent review on criminal legal aid.
In its application for permission, the Law Society argued that the government’s decision not to implement the key recommendation of the Bellamy review was irrational, lacked reasons and was in breach of the constitutional right of access to justice.
The Law Society has been granted permission on all three grounds.
Law Society president Lubna Shuja said: “The High Court’s decision to grant us permission to bring a judicial review challenge against the government is a significant and positive step forward in our fight to safeguard the future of the criminal justice system.”
She added: “We would encourage the new lord chancellor to reconsider his predecessor’s refusal to engage with us in some form of alternative dispute resolution and to address our concerns without the need for continued intervention from the court.
“We are keen to work with the lord chancellor to find a way forward which will make this crucially important work financially viable for criminal defence solicitors.
“Duty solicitors continue to leave criminal legal aid work in their droves because the work is not financially viable – more than 1,400 duty solicitors have left since 2017.
“This could leave many people without access to a lawyer when they desperately need expert advice and is making the work of the police ever more difficult.
“Funding solicitors fairly for the invaluable work that they do is one of several steps the government needs to take if it is serious about ensuring the criminal justice system has sufficient capacity to clear the court backlogs.
“A relatively small amount of money can make a huge difference to hard-working solicitors, who are the backbone of our criminal justice system.”