Government plans will tip justice system over the edge, warns CILEx

28 February 2020

Government plans will tip justice system over the edge, warns CILEx

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) has warned that government’s interim plans for the criminal legal aid system – published this morning – risk the collapse of the justice system.

It has joined with the Law Society in condemning the proposals from the Ministry of Justice for offering little to alleviate an already desperate funding crisis.

With fee levels for criminal legal aid remaining almost unchanged for the past 25 years, these proposals do not go anywhere close to addressing the shortfall which has seen a huge decline in the number of criminal lawyers available to defend those accused of crime. They have been driven out of business by unsustainable fees. A right to a defence is a basic right for citizens in this country.

CILEx Vice-President Craig Tickner, a specialist criminal defence advocate, says, “The government’s latest proposals for criminal legal aid are insufficient, tokenistic and will not halt the potential collapse of the system. Far more is needed to ensure that it is viable for criminal defence lawyers, including the Chartered Legal Executives who work in this field, to continue to practice.

“Years of stagnant fees are taking their toll and there is a real risk that the system grinds to a halt, leaving victims without justice and those accused of crimes without access to a fair trial.”

CILEx representatives have tried to engage with the Ministry of Justice working group set up to examine solutions to the deepening crisis but has been disappointed by difficulties in doing so effectively and the resulting package that sees only a 2.1-3.7% rise for Chartered Legal Executives working in criminal defence, after 25 years without an increase.

Craig Tickner says: “Current legal aid rates are simply out-of-date and are insulting to those who often end up working for free to keep the criminal justice system from collapse.

“These changes are simply fiddling while Rome burns and the Ministry of Justice must rapidly reconsider its approach.”

A good example of the dangers here is how the government is continuing not to recognise the time that is needed for defence lawyers to review the disclosure by the prosecution of unused material.

There have been several high-profile cases – such as that of Liam Allan – that have collapsed because this material actually contained information exonerating the defendant. This shows how important is it for a defendant’s lawyers to go through the material, but because of electronic communications such as phone records and texts, the volume can be huge and requires a lot of time to review.

ENDS

For further information, please contact:

Louise Eckersley, Black Letter Communications on 0203 567 1208 or email:

louise.eckersley@blacklettercommunications.co.uk

Notes to editors:

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) is one of the three main professional bodies covering the legal profession in England and Wales. The 20,000-strong membership is made up of Chartered Legal Executives, paralegals and other legal professionals.

CILEx members are regulated through an independent body, CILEx Regulation. It is the only regulator covering paralegals.

CILEx provides career support and training, with qualifications open to those holding GCSEs, A levels or a degree. Over 100,000 students have chosen CILEx over the last 25 years, with the majority studying whilst in full or part-time employment.

CILEx offers the opportunity of a non-graduate route to qualification as a lawyer, although graduates are also welcomed and the Graduate Fast-track Diploma offers a more affordable and viable alternative to the LPC.

Those who complete the full CILEx qualification are known as Chartered Legal Executives. They can become partners in law firms, coroners, judges or advocates in open court.

CILEx is committed to supporting members to deliver accessible legal services to the public.

The membership is diverse – 75% of members are women and 11% are from a BAME background.