Ageing defence lawyers heading towards ‘extinction’
Criminal defence lawyers in the UK are heading towards ‘extinction’ in just five years, according to new research by the Law Society. The new statistics show that criminal defence sector is becoming an ageing profession, with fewer and fewer young professionals choosing to practice in the field. From May 2014 to January 2018 the overall number of practising solicitors rose by 7.8%, but the proportion specialising in criminal work fell by 9.4%. In certain areas of the UK – including Dorset, Somerset, Worcestershire, Wiltshire, West Wales and Mid Wales – more than six out of 10 criminal law solicitors are over 50. Meanwhile, in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cornwall and Worcestershire there are no criminal law solicitors aged under thirty five, with only one each in West Wales and Mid Wales, and only two in Devon.
- You can read Sue James and Matt Foot on this evening’s Vigil for Justice demo, organised by the Justice Alliance, on the Law Society’s Gazette site here
‘The justice system is facing a cliff edge scenario; criminal duty solicitors are part of an increasingly ageing profession, and government cuts mean there are not enough young lawyers entering the field of criminal defence work,’ said Law Society president Joe Egan. ‘If this trend continues, in five to ten years’ time there could be insufficient criminal defence solicitors in many regions, leaving people in need of legal advice unable to access their rights.’
The lack of young criminal defence solicitors rising up, and the lack of interest in specialising in the area in the future, raises serious implications for the criminal justice system. For example, the attendance of duty solicitors during police interviews is at risk from lack of participants, as they must be available 24 hours a day to provide legal advice to suspects. These solicitors protect suspects against inappropriate treatment, but also the police from false allegations of mistreatment.
This news comes as crisis has hit the other half of criminal practitioners: barristers are refusing to take on new criminal cases in protest of the new legal aid cuts, which came into force on 1 April 2018. Mass walk-outs are now planned to take place to demonstrate the criminal Bar’s fury at the crippling lack of funding in the criminal justice system.
‘Criminal justice is at the heart of a democratic society and duty solicitors ensure a fundamental part of the justice system is upheld,’ Egan commented. ‘Twenty years without any increases in fees, and a series of drastic cuts have pushed the criminal justice system to the point where lawyers can no longer see a viable career doing this work. Access to independent, expert legal advice is an important right which ensures fair access to justice. If a suspect cannot access free advice and representation, a fair trial would be jeopardised, and cases would collapse.’
This article was first published on April 17, 2018