updated on 14 November 2022
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The Law Society has warned that strike action from legal aid solicitors is “near inevitable”, as the government refuses to grant a 15% rise in fees for criminal defence work.
Early last week representatives from more than 150 firms with criminal legal aid contracts met to discuss the 15% uplift on all criminal legal aid fees, including the litigators graduated fee scheme and prison law.
The firms have now launched the Criminal Legal Aid Contractors Association to offer a “unified voice” and work with the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Aid Agency on behalf of members.
Legal aid funding pays for representation in court for defendants who cannot afford their own. If solicitors turn away from this work, or new trainees don’t join the profession, there will be a detrimental impact on the ability of vulnerable people to access the justice system.
Last Thursday, Law Society president Lubna Shuja said: “An escalation of action by law firm owners is near inevitable given the government’s baffling refusal to implement our demands for the bare minimum 15% increase for criminal defence solicitors, which was recommended by their own review.”
As it stands, legal aid solicitors are unable to engage in strike action due to their contractual obligations and instead have been boycotting underpaid work.
Jan Matthews, managing partner of Reeds Solicitors and member of the new association, spoke to the Law Society Gazette: “The reason why we’re doing it is because there is no other body that speaks solely for those individuals who sign up to the contract.”
Given the existence of the Law Society and other representative bodies, Matthews added: “You cannot represent firms and individuals. What the business might need and what the employee might need, you cannot group all of these together because they have different requirements.”
In a statement to the Independent, the new group warned that firms would have “no choice but to cease to undertake work that is financially unsustainable for their practice, potentially leaving vulnerable defendants without the benefit of legal representation”.