The Cabinet Secretary for Justice has written to us to confirm changes to the financial package of support announced last month.
Amanda Millar, President of the Law Society, said: “This revised package is one we support as a positive step forward. £20 million of new money is a significant investment in a vital part of our civil society. It recognises how legal aid solicitors have suffered throughout this COVID crisis, pressures which will only increase with this week’s decision to reduce the number of criminal trials by 75%.
“I am pleased the Cabinet Secretary has listened and taken onboard some of the feedback which solicitors across the country have provided over the last few weeks. The decision to remove the changes to solemn and summary fees is particularly good news. These reforms were causing great concern and the decision not to proceed allows everyone to focus on implementing the 5% across the board fee increase together with another 5% uplift next year. It also provides an opportunity to look afresh at the structure of legal aid fees for a system which will inevitably look different post-COVID. Equally, the new trainee fund acknowledges the concern about the future sustainability of the sector.
“While this package is welcome, it is only a step towards resolving a generation of underfunding of legal aid. There are still serious and unresolved issues in how we improve the legal aid system over the long term and ensure this is a sector that solicitors want to work in. Without this, there is a real risk that the poorest and most vulnerable in our society will not get the legal assistance they need. This will have knock on impacts on the effectiveness of our justice system and delivering the kind of civil society we all aspire to live in. This is why we will work with government on its commitment to promptly develop a fee review mechanism that provides long-term sustainable legal aid provision.
“Our immediate focus must be to get this new money out to firms as quickly as possible. We will be working closely with government, particularly on the resilience fund and trainee fund, to try and ensure they are simple and straightforward for firms to apply for."