Criminal defence lawyers play a crucial role in upholding the rule of law, and the Government greatly value the work that they do. In my meetings with the Bar Council, the Criminal Bar Association and with circuit leaders, support for the publicly funded Bar is always high on the agenda.
There are three things here. First, at the beginning of the pandemic, the CPS made changes to its system for paying fees to advocates to support them at that difficult time. Secondly, the Government made it easier for barristers to claim hardship payments for Crown court work. Thirdly, in August, the Government invested an extra £51 million into the criminal legal aid fee scheme to better reflect the important work that criminal barristers do.
It was extremely disappointing to see no further funding for legal aid practitioners announced in the Chancellor’s spending review. There has not been a rise in legal aid payments for 25 years, and a decade of Government cuts to legal aid have left thousands of practitioners facing the prospect of going out of business, even before coronavirus. Does the Attorney General agree that legal aid practitioners should have been included in the spending review?
As I have already mentioned, the £51 million of additional funding through the criminal legal aid review has been allocated specifically for those publicly funded barristers and lawyers of whom the hon. Gentleman speaks. The next phase of CLAR will involve an independently led review that will ensure the market meets demands, provides value for money for the taxpayer and provides for defendants to continue to receive high-quality advice from a diverse range of practitioners, protecting access to justice now and into the future.