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Law Society urges MoJ to increase criminal legal aid fees after High Court ‘victory’

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The Law Society has declared “victory” against the UK government after the High Court ruled on its judicial review on criminal solicitors’ legal aid fees.

The government was taken to court in December over its failure to increase criminal solicitors’ legal aid fees. As recommended by the independent criminal legal aid review (CLAIR), the government should have increase criminal defence solicitors’ legal aid rates by the bare minimum 15 per cent.

Speaking back in December, the Law Society president Nick Emmerson pointed out that Lord Bellamy’s report set out the ‘parlous’ state the profession was in but the “then Lord Chancellor, Dominic Raab, chose to ignore his key recommendation of a minimum rates rise to keep the profession afloat.”

The High Court handed down its judgment on the judicial review on Wednesday. The court ruled in favour of the Law Society but only in “limited aspects of its claim”.

The claim for judicial review was granted in part under grounds four and two.

The court declared that the” Lord Chancellor’s failure, during the decision-making process, to ask whether fee increases at lower levels than the 15 per cent recommended in the CLAIR Report would, or might, still deliver the aims and objectives of the CLAIR report, was irrational and breached his Wednesbury duty.”

The court also declared that the “Lord Chancellor’s failure to undertake any modelling to ascertain whether the aims and objectives of the CLAIR Report, in particular ensuring the sustainability of criminal legal aid, would be furthered if fee uplifts lower than the 15 per cent recommended by the CLAIR report were implemented, was irrational and breached his Tameside duty of sufficient enquiry.”

Speaking on the ruling, Emmerson said: “We are delighted the High Court has recognised that then-lord chancellor, Dominic Raab’s decision was irrational.”

He has now urged the government to rethink the criminal legal aid funding before the system collapses.

Emmerson highlighted that 1,400 duty solicitors have left since 2017 because the work is not financially viable.

“We are already seeing that there simply aren’t enough solicitors to represent suspects at police stations and magistrates’ courts day and night across the country. This situation will only get worse with potentially dangerous consequences for society,” he explained.

The society calls on the government to ensure that the key recommendation of CLAIR, that 15 per cent legal aid rates’ rise, is implemented “as soon as possible”.

“We are keen to work with the lord chancellor to help take the necessary steps to safeguard the future of this crucial profession,” Emmerson added.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: “While the claimants were successful on specific narrow grounds, the majority of their arguments were rejected by the court. We will consider the judgment carefully.”

“Just this week we announced a consultation that would lead to £21m being invested in criminal legal aid solicitors. We expect our existing reforms to increase spending on criminal legal aid by up to £141m a year,” they added.

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