Independent Criminal Legal Aid Review launch imminent
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Marc Bloomfield
Description: Legal aid
An Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid is due to be launched by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) this month (January 2021). According to the terms of reference for the review, which were published in December 2020, it will be ‘far more ambitious in scope’ than previous reviews as it is ‘aiming to assess the entire criminal legal aid system’ (para 6, pages 3–4)
Sir Christopher Bellamy QC, the former chair of Magic Circle firm Linklaters who is currently at Monckton Chambers, will lead the review. Sir Christopher is a renowned expert in competition law. However, his lack of expertise in criminal law and legal aid has been the subject of criticism in some quarters. ‘Competition lawyer! About as far removed from criminal legal aid as you can get’ was the reaction of one lawyer in response to an article on his appointment.
Just under two years ago, in response to long-term concerns about the sustainability of the criminal legal aid system, the government launched the Criminal Legal Aid Review (CLAR). It accelerated the process of considering fee levels and published revised remuneration rates early in 2020, pledging an extra £35m–51m per year. Practitioners argued in response that this was insufficient to tackle the crisis in the system.
According to the MoJ, the independent review is the next phase of the CLAR and will report back later this year. It will draw on existing evidence from various sources and collect ‘new evidence, where necessary, to ensure that the recommendations are informed by an analysis of the market’ (para 25, page 8 of the terms of reference). An expert panel will be established as part of the review process and will include five places for practitioners to be nominated on an ex officio basis by representative bodies.
In a press release, the lord chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, pledged: ‘This independent review will be wide-ranging and ambitious, ensuring the criminal legal aid market remains effective and sustainable, while reflecting the diverse society it serves’ (‘Independent review into criminal legal aid to launch in January’, Ministry of Justice, 21 December 2020).
Earlier this month, in his evidence to the Justice Committee’s inquiry into the future of legal aid, Richard Miller, head of justice at The Law Society, called for an ‘interim, across-the-board increase in rates’. He explained that the Scottish government had announced a 10 per cent rise for Scottish criminal legal aid lawyers and something similar was needed in England and Wales to stem the flow of firms leaving the system. According to Miller, 12 per cent had abandoned criminal legal aid work in the last year.

About the author(s)

Description: LAG
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