Solicitors doing criminal legal-aid work are already stretched to breaking point in the police station and magistrates’ court, the Law Society of England and Wales has said.
It was responding to reports that Britain’s justice secretary was considering granting them rights to appear in the Crown court.
The Law Society Gazette of England and Wales says that Dominic Raab is reportedly considering plans to grant more solicitors advocacy rights, undermining the criminal bar’s strike action.
Society vice-president Lubna Shuja said, however, that extending solicitors’ rights would not necessarily mean that large numbers of solicitors would immediately be available to undertake complex advocacy in the most serious cases.
“Solicitors are already stretched to breaking point with police station and magistrates’ court work, and Crown Court litigation,” the Gazette quoted her as saying.
“Any change would therefore need to be accompanied by the full implementation of the Bellamy report’s minimum recommendations for solicitors’ remuneration – namely a package worth 15% overall – to have any prospect of unlocking additional capacity,” she added.
‘More expensive system’
A British government source also told the Daily Mail that it was looking to expand the Public Defender Service.
Shuja said: “The Public Defender Service is significantly less cost-effective than private practice – even if private-practice rates are increased as necessary to make the work economically viable.
“It makes no sense to expand a more expensive system as a solution to the government’s choice not to adequately fund criminal legal-aid solicitors who provide a more cost-effective option.
“This is similarly unlikely to be an answer to the criminal bar’s protest action, because it is not increasing the pool of advocates, it is simply rearranging the same people.”