Legal aid reforms need two-year impact review, says CILEX

CILEX also urges government to ensure its members play full part in helping criminal legal aid system to recover

 The government’s planned reforms to criminal legal aid are a step in the right direction but need to be reviewed after two years to ensure they are having the desired impact, CILEX (the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) says today.

Its response to the Ministry of Justice consultation following Sir Christopher Bellamy’s Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid also urges ministers to recognise the importance of CILEX professionals to the current and future operation of the criminal legal aid system.

There are currently around 1,150 CILEX members working in criminal law and they add significantly to the diversity of the sector: nearly two-thirds of these members identify as female, while almost one in five is from an ethnic minority.

CILEX continues to believe that criminal legal aid is in dire need of investment and reform to ensure that the underpinning principles of our justice system are retained and the sector attracts and retains the best legal talent.

CILEX backs the government’s proposals to address these problems while also urging ongoing monitoring to ensure the desired outcomes and any further support are delivered to guarantee the long-term viability of the system.

It supports the creation of an Advisory Board to encourage effective partnership working between the Ministry of Justice, representative bodies (including CILEX) and practitioners. The response says: “The fee uplifts proposed in the consultation are a positive step towards putting criminal legal aid on a more sustainable footing.

“We are, however, asking that the proposed Advisory Board be given a specific remit to conduct an impact review after 24 months and be asked for their views on whether more needs to be done to protect the criminal legal system.”

While better remuneration is part of addressing the recruitment and retention crisis, so too is opening up the system to lawyers from a broad range of backgrounds by, for example, supporting training opportunities through ‘non-traditional’ entry points to the legal profession. CILEX agrees with the government that a training and accreditation grant programme could be an effective tool but says it must be open to support all forms of relevant legal training, including CILEX.

“Our qualifications provide a greater degree of flexibility in terms of entry and study route than ‘traditional’ entry points into the legal profession, resulting in a more diverse workforce. We therefore urge government to design a grant programme that recognises the need for such flexibility.”

The response strongly supports proposals to make it easier for suitably qualified CILEX professionals to become duty lawyers: “CILEX contends that the CILEX Professional Qualification and advocacy practice rights course equip members with the necessary knowledge and skills to operate independently as duty lawyers and make them the professional equal of solicitor counterparts.”

The consultation raises the possibility of solicitors gaining higher rights of audience and asks what can be done to support this.

CILEX says: “Suitably qualified CILEX professionals are every part the equal of solicitors in their chosen area of law when it comes to skills, expertise and professionalism. However, there are too many artificial barriers placed in their way that prevent widespread parity of esteem. Therefore, any efforts to grant solicitors higher rights of audience should also be extended to fully qualified CILEX professionals.”

Professor Chris Bones, the chair of CILEX, says: “CILEX lawyers have a lot to offer the desperately needed recovery of the criminal legal aid system and there are signs in the consultation that the Ministry of Justice recognises this. But it needs to go further in ensuring that our members can play a full part alongside solicitors.

“The government also needs to recognise that this cannot be a one-off intervention. It needs to monitor the impact of the reforms and, in collaboration with stakeholders like CILEX, take stock after two years of what more needs to be done to deliver a justice system the country needs and deserves.”

Share this post