Fall in duty solicitors in Merseyside may cause 'perfect storm' in criminal justice

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The Law Society report instances of police releasing suspects because of absent legal representation.

A projected fall in duty solicitors in Merseyside has been predicted to cause a “perfect storm” in criminal justice.

Across England and Wales, figures show the number of duty solicitors has fallen by more than a quarter since 2017, while the Government has pushed through its police officer uplift programme to recruit 20,000 new officers. The Law Society said this is “creating a perfect storm in criminal justice”, reporting instances of police releasing suspects because of absent legal representation.

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Analysis of Ministry of Justice data by the Law Society suggests there will be 90 duty solicitors registered in Merseyside in 2027 – down from 107 this year. In 2017, there were 144 duty solicitors, meaning there is predicted to be a fall of 38% in a decade.

The Law Society said the projections nationally show a continued collapse of duty solicitor schemes, meaning suspects are not provided with the independent legal support they are entitled to.

Merseyside Police officers at Liverpool Crown Court. Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty ImagesMerseyside Police officers at Liverpool Crown Court. Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Merseyside Police officers at Liverpool Crown Court. Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images | Getty Images

Lubna Shuja, president of the independent professional body representing solicitors in England and Wales, said: “Across the country, duty solicitors are working day and night providing legal advice at the crucial earliest stage of cases at police stations, ensuring access to justice for all. But there simply aren’t enough of them to go around because the work is not financially viable. The Government sees itself as the party of law and order, but the evidence points to the contrary as its decisions continue to put the future of our criminal justice system at risk.”

Ms Shuja called on the Government to “stop short-changing” defence solicitors and implement a 15% rise in legal aid rates. “The failure to do this has sent a clear message that the Government is not serious about addressing the crisis,” she concluded.

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  • Nationally, there were 5,550 duty solicitors in 2017 – this has dropped to 4,100 as of April 2023, and is projected to fall by more than 2,000 over a decade to 3,480 in 2027.
  • Meanwhile, separate Home Office figures show more than 20,000 police officers have been recruited across the country as a part of the Government’s uplift programme.
  • Merseyside Police’s target was 665 – which was surpassed by recruiting 724 extra officers by March 2023.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are putting the legal aid sector on a sustainable footing and expect our reforms to criminal legal aid will increase investment in the solicitor profession by £85 million every year, including an initial fee increase of over 15% for their work in police stations and magistrates’ courts.”