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Pro bono work and social justice
Pro bono work and social justice

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2.3 Criminal legal aid

At the police station, free legal advice from the duty solicitor is available to anyone, irrespective of financial circumstances. A person in receipt of benefits may also get advice and assistance before they are charged with a criminal offence. Representation in both the magistrates’ court and the Crown Court is provided but it is means-tested so this restricts the availability of criminal legal aid. More information is available on the Citizens Advice website [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

In 2014–15, spending on criminal legal aid was £919 million, compared with £622 million on civil legal aid (National Audit Office, 2015). Remuneration in criminal matters has been cut. In January 2016, Michael Gove, the then Justice Secretary, announced the further planned cuts to criminal legal aid fees would be suspended. The legal profession is concerned that the reduction in the rates for criminal legal aid will impact on the availability of quality representation.

Jonathan Smithers, President of the Law Society, commented:

We have constantly said that we fear the profession will be unable to cope with significant fee reductions and are therefore relieved that the lord chancellor has listened to our concerns. Criminal legal aid solicitors are at the heart of the criminal justice system, defending vulnerable suspects and upholding the rule of law. It is in the interests of the public, the legal profession, government and justice, that high-quality firms remain able to deliver the expert legal advice people need.

(Bowcott, 2016)