Blueline Jobs


Austerity measures could see duty lawyers disappear within years

'We do not leave the ill to treat themselves'.
Published - 02/11/2018 By - JJ Hutber- Police Oracle

Soon there will be no duty solicitors to call for suspects held at police stations, a leading criminal lawyer told chiefs and PCCs this week.

Rates for duty lawyers have fallen so low it is no longer an option for up-and-coming lawyers, co-chair of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee Richard Atkinson said.

“At present station advice is free but that does not mean that suspects can be assured that they will always have such advice available to them.

“Recent work by the Law Society has shown that the age profile of duty solicitors is high with the average age approaching 50 and the number of young people undertaking the work almost non-existent.

“In five to ten years there will be large parts of the country where there will be simply no duty solicitors to advise those who find themselves being questioned by the police," he told the National Police Chiefs’ Council and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners annual summit.

“The attractiveness of a career in criminal law is not hard to guess at when legal aid rates have not been increased for some 25 years now and even those historic rates have suffered a number of cuts.

“Salaries have fallen dramatically behind other areas of law to the point where they are simply no longer viable for the most committed young person embarking on a legal career.”

He also raised concern relentless cuts to legal aid for defendants is destroying the criminal justice system.

“We do not leave the ill to treat themselves without expert medical help so nor should we expect people to deal with legal problems and disputes without expert legal help if they cannot afford it.

“If we are to restore confidence than we must have a system whereby anyone charged with a criminal offence which if convicted of would adversely affect their reputation or result in a loss of liberty must be given the chance to be represented."

Mr Atkinson pointed out that financial eligibility threshold in courts have not been increased for a decade, despite the cost of living going up by a quarter.

And he pointed to a Loughborough University report which concluded that the criminal legal aid system may require defendants whose income is at or below a minimum level pay their full legal costs at the magistrates court.  

“This means people whose standard of living is almost below the acceptable level are expected to pay for their representation,” he said.

“A criminal trial is no longer about just turning up and giving your account for a defendant. They have to deal with complex and difficult areas of law.

“This is even before they are face with an uneven contest in court where the prosecution will be represented by a solicitor or barrister who will be an experienced advocate familiar with the process, etiquette, law and presentation of cases,” he added.

Visit - the UK's leading independent Policing news website