Judicial ReviewsLegalLegal AidPress Release

Association of Prison Lawyers calls for urgent increases to legal aid rates


01 February 2024

The Association of Prison Lawyers welcomes the High Court’s judgment on criminal legal aid funding handed down yesterday. The Law Society took the government to court over the decision not to raise criminal legal aid fees by the minimum 15% recommended in the independent criminal legal aid review (the “Bellamy Review”). The claim succeeded on two grounds, with the Court finding that the Secretary of State for Justice had acted unlawfully and irrationally in connection with its decisions not to implement the full recommendations in Lord Bellamy’s Criminal Legal Aid Review.

The litigation depicted the intense pressures on lawyers working in this field, which was summarised by the Court in these terms:

“In short, the evidence from solicitors working at grass-roots level is that the system is slowly coming apart at the seams. The system depends to an unacceptable degree on the goodwill and generosity of spirit of those currently working within it. New blood in significant quantities will not and cannot be attracted to criminal legal aid in circumstances where what is on offer elsewhere is considerably more attractive both in terms of financial remuneration and other benefits. Unless there are significant injections of funding in the relatively near future, any prediction along the lines that the system will arrive in due course at a point of collapse is not overly pessimistic.”

This picture – of intense and unsustainable pressure on practitioners – is mirrored up and down the country in relation to the work of prison lawyers:

  • The rate of pay for prison law work has decreased by 35% since 2011, taking inflation into account.
  • Between 2008 and 2022, the number of providers for prison law legal aid reduced by 85%.
  • Despite the Bellamy Review recommending an increase of at least 15% for prison law and parole work, the Secretary of State made no increase at all to the rate of remuneration in these areas.
  • Now, three-quarters of prison lawyers say they will not be doing this work in 3 years’ time, with the vast majority citing poor remuneration as the reason.
  • Between 2011 and 2022 the number of oral parole hearings has almost doubled and the prison population is now at record levels.

The Association of Prison Lawyers calls on the Secretary of State to reflect urgently upon the High Court’s judgment and to implement Lord Bellamy’s full 15% funding recommendation for all areas of criminal legal aid work without delay. This must include a 15% increase for prison and parole work, which is essential to an effective criminal justice system.

About us:

The Association of Prison Lawyers was formed in 2008. We represent and provide training for our members, comprising specialist barristers, solicitors and legal representatives across England & Wales.

You can read our report on sustainability in prison law legal aid, published on 7th August 2023, on our website: www.associationofprisonlawyers.co.uk/the-silent-demise-of-prison-law-legal-aid/