Solicitors taking Government to court in row over fees

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Solicitors are preparing to take the Government to court in a row over fees.

The Law Society of England and Wales threatened legal action last month as it called on the Justice Secretary to rethink the rates criminal defence solicitors receive for legal aid work, or face a judicial review.

It came after the body, which represents solicitors, last year accused Dominic Raab of imposing a “real terms” pay cut on solicitors, warning this could lead to “chaos” in the justice system, with lawyers quitting and firms forced to close down.

The society announced on Wednesday it had applied to the High Court for permission to challenge the decision – which it branded “unlawful and irrational” – after claiming the Government had “rejected” its offer of mediation to resolve the issue.

“We have therefore applied to the High Court for permission to challenge the Government’s implementation of the recommendations made in the independent review of the sector.”

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announced in November that it was giving solicitors the “biggest boost to their pay in decades”, amounting to an overall 11% rise in legal aid fees at a cost of £85 million a year.

But the society accused Mr Raab of “completely” rejecting the advice of the Government’s own independent review into the legal aid system, which recommended an immediate 15% rate rise.

In the wake of strikes by criminal barristers, the body warned that the Government’s decision could see solicitors also resorting to “disruptive tactics”.

Ms Shuja added: “The Government found the money for defence and prosecution barristers but is short-changing solicitors, who are the backbone of the criminal justice system…

“The Law Society will do everything in our power to get a fair deal for defence solicitors and ensure access to justice for all.”

Government officials have stressed that, even though the overall percentage rise is lower for solicitors, they will receive double the money provided to barristers who were given a 15% rise (£43 million).

But the society said this was because there are more solicitors.

In findings published in 2021, the now Lord Christopher Bellamy KC recommended increasing criminal legal aid funding – which pays for representation during police investigations and in court for suspects who cannot afford their own – by “at least 15%” for solicitors and barristers as soon as possible.

His report warned that the sum was the “minimum necessary as the first step in nursing the system of criminal legal aid back to health after years of neglect”.

“I do not see that sum as ‘an opening bid’ but rather what is needed, as soon as practicable, to enable… the whole criminal justice system to function effectively, to respond to forecast increased demand, and to reduce the backlog.”

He added: “I by no means exclude that further sums may be necessary in the future to meet these public interest objectives. There is, in my view, no scope for further delay.”

The MoJ has been contacted for comment.

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