Tag Archives: campaign

Help fix the broken criminal justice system

Due to many years of under investment the criminal justice system in England and Wales is crumbling.

Things are going wrong at every level and every stage. It’s become a nightmare journey through the system for the accused, for victims and for solicitors alike.

fix the broken justice system

Five problems facing the system

Increasing shortages of criminal duty solicitors

Within five years there could be areas in England and Wales where people who have been arrested won’t be able to access a duty solicitor. This means they won’t be able to get the free legal advice they’re entitled to.

You can read more about the importance of instructing a free solicitor at an early stage here.

criminal duty solicitors

The means test for criminal legal aid is too restrictive

People on low incomes aren’t able to access legal advice, or are having to pay contributions towards it which are higher than they can afford.

You can read more about the availability of legal aid here.

Inefficiencies in the system

For example, cases in court are often ‘double booked’, so some hearings get cancelled at the last minute. Things like this waste the accused’s and their solicitor’s time, and increase costs.

More and more courts are being closed

Defendants and witnesses are having to make unreasonably long and expensive journeys to court.

You can read more about our commitment to providing local legal advice for our clients here.

Crucial evidence is often not disclosed

Important evidence sometimes isn’t made available until the last minute, or isn’t disclosed at all. This can mean the difference between freedom and imprisonment.

All of these problems show the criminal justice system is at breaking point. Without urgent action, it will fall apart.

You can sign the Law Society petition to fix the broken justice system here.

broken justice system

Criminal duty solicitors: a looming crisis

The Law Society has published data which shows a looming crisis in the numbers of criminal duty solicitors working in England and Wales right now.  In the future, many individuals will be left unable to access their right to a solicitor and free advice within a reasonable time, if at all.

Criminal duty solicitors – a dying breed?

Criminal duty solicitors like those at VHS Fletchers offer a vital public service. Any individual detained by the police has a right to a solicitor and this advice will always be free of charge under our legal aid contract with the government. This remains the case at any time of day, and regardless of wealth, age or nationality.

The mean average age of a criminal duty solicitor across the whole of England and Wales is now 47, and in many regions the average age is even higher.

The Law Society data highlights that in 5 to 10 years’ time there could be insufficient criminal duty solicitors in many regions, leaving individuals in need of legal advice unable to access justice.

This could have a catastrophic effect on the criminal justice system, as members of the profession retire and leave a shortage of experienced practitioners.  This will impact on both access to justice and on valuable police time.

One explanation for these shortages is because criminal defence solicitors have received no fee increase since 1998.  Instead, fees have been reduced and removed.  Inflation has led to a significant real terms reduction.  Combined with other cuts to the system including court closures, many lawyers no longer see a viable career doing this work.  It is difficult to attract and retain new members of the profession.

The Law Society campaign

The Law Society is therefore calling on the Government to conduct an economic review of the long-term viability of the criminal legal aid system and to guarantee that criminal legal aid fees will rise with inflation.

The full information from the Law Society including a map showing particular areas of concern, as well as a link to write to your local MP about the issue, can be found here.

criminal duty solicitors

The scope of the Government review into the criminal legal aid system can be found here.

Predictably there has already been comment from the government that there will not be a return to past fee levels.

You can sign the Law Society petition to fix the broken justice system here.

The Law Society Campaign to restore Legal Aid for Early Legal Advice

In 2015/16, Ipsos MORI conducted a study on individuals’ legal needs on behalf of the Law Society and the Legal Services
Board (LSB). The main component of the study was an online survey to examine individuals’ experiences of 29 legal issues and the effect of receiving early legal advice.

Large scale survey about the effect of early legal advice

The survey provided quantitative findings from 8,192 participants, which examined the responses from 16,694 issues

This included issues relating to

  • divorce/dissolution of civil partnerships
  • debt/money issues
  • injury at work
  • road traffic accidents
  • personal injury
  • legal issues with mental health issues
  • repossession or eviction
  • neighbour disputes
  • relationship breakdown issues
  • welfare benefits; discrimination
  • being arrested
  • legal issues related to children
  • immigration
  • domestic violence
  • homelessness
  • unfair treatment by the police

These are all issues which may be handled using legal processes but are not necessarily seen as being ‘legal’ in nature by those experiencing them.

early legal advice

The results of the analysis

This report outlines results from analysis comparing the effects on the timing of the resolution of individuals’ legal issues of receiving early professional legal advice compared to not receiving it.

The analysis showed that early advice has a statistically significant effect on the timing of the resolution of people’s legal issues.

Specifically, the analysis showed that for these issues:

  • On average, a quarter (25%) of people who received early professional legal advice had resolved their problem within 3-4 months of the problem first occurring, whereas for people who did not receive early legal advice it was not until 9 months after the issue had first occurred that 25% had resolved their issue.
  • Correspondingly, and controlling for other factors that can affect problem resolution, people who did not receive early advice were 20% less likely than average to have resolved their issue at a
    particular point in time.
  • The main other factors affecting problem resolution were the severity of the issues, and people’s previous knowledge of their legal rights. More severe problems, as would be expected, take longer on average to resolve, and people with little previous knowledge of their legal rights were 33% less likely than average to have resolved their issue at a particular point.
  • Early professional legal advice was defined as ‘within 3 months of the issue first occurring’ as analysis showed that this is a reasonable definition on average across the 17 issues considered.
  • Professional legal advice covered advice from a solicitor, or other professional advisers such as Citizen Advice Bureaux or
    trade unions.

As a result, the report stressed the importance of restoring the ability for individuals to seek early legal advice by receiving legal aid.  Advice and assistance in police interview remains free of charge to all.  Find out more about that here.

The Law Society is campaigning for the restoration of access to early legal advice under the legal aid scheme here.

The link to allow you to easily email your MP can be found here.

early legal advice