Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid

The Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid will look at ensuring the long-term sustainability of the criminal legal aid system. The review is chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy QC, who will put forward his conclusions and proposals to the Lord Chancellor in 2021.

About the Review

The Independent Review is chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy QC. Sir Christopher is a former judge with a wealth of legal experience. He has recently stepped down as Chairman of Linklaters global competition practice and joined Monckton Chambers to focus on mediation and arbitration.

Sir Christopher leads a dedicated review team within Government and will have close oversight of the work to ensure it meets these terms of reference and delivers robust, evidence-based recommendations.

Sir Christopher is supported by an Expert and Advisory Panel who will support the review by testing and challenging the review’s emerging findings and recommendations. The Panel are composed of individuals from a range of backgrounds, skills and experience that will aid the review in its analysis of the Criminal Legal Aid System.

This review will look at the criminal legal aid system in its entirety and will seek to ensure it:

  • provide high quality legal advice and representation
  • is provided through a diverse set of practitioners
  • is appropriately funded
  • is responsive to user needs both now and in the future
  • contributes to the efficiency and effectiveness of the Criminal Justice System
  • is transparent
  • is resilient
  • is delivered in a way that provides value for money to the taxpayer

This is the latest step in the Criminal Legal Aid Review, which has already led to up to £51m per year in new payments for the sector. It forms part of wider work to ensure criminal defence remains an attractive career for practitioners now and into the future.

Membership

  • Sir Christopher Bellamy QC - Panel Chair
  • Professor Sue Arrowsmith QC
  • Richard Atkinson
  • Kate Aubrey Johnson
  • Professor Chris Bones
  • Dr Natalie Byrom
  • Jo Cecil
  • Anita Charlesworth CBE
  • Professor Dame Hazel Genn DBE, QC (Hon), FBA, LLD
  • The Right Honourable Baroness Hallett DBE
  • Neil Hawes QC
  • Dr Vicky Kemp
  • Professor Stephen Mayson
  • Margaret Obi
  • Crispin Passmore
  • Professor Neil Rickman
  • Bill Waddington
  • Dr Kevin Wong

Terms of Reference

Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid - Terms of Reference (PDF, 220KB, 9 pages)

Progress update

As the Chair of the Criminal Legal Aid Independent Review, Sir Christopher Bellamy, is keen to gain insights into key issues affecting the Criminal Legal Aid System. In March the Independent Review began a range of evidence gathering exercises. These include:

Call for Evidence

A Call for Evidence was launched on 29 March 2021 and was due to close on 7 May 2021. The deadline was extended, to ensure stakeholders had time to provide the evidence they wanted to, for an additional 3 weeks and closed at midnight on Friday 28 May 2021. The Call for Evidence provided an opportunity for any individual or organisation to submit evidence for the review to consider.

Provider Firm Survey and Case Studies

The review is running a survey among firms that currently undertake publicly funded work on criminal cases. The review is seeking to understand the financial position of firms providing these services and the remuneration of their employees who specialise in this type of work. This information is being collected to help the review assess the long-term sustainability of the sector. A representative sample of approximately 400 firms was randomly selected and questionnaires were sent out to these firms on 6 May. The deadline for the survey was Friday 28 May, however the review will continue to accept returns until 4 June.

The review will also conduct detailed case studies of between 15 and 25 firms, examining business models and day-to-day operational practices. The case studies will be comprised of a questionnaire and interviews with the selected firms. The case study questionnaire was piloted with 2 firms in the week commencing the 10th of May. The official case study process began on Friday 28 May 2021.

Focus Groups with Practitioners

The review ran a number of focus groups between the 20 April and 10 May 2021 to understand the experiences of Criminal Legal Aid practitioners across England and Wales. The focus group discussions were aimed at covering a range of topics and were designed to supplement the focus groups conducted by the Ministry of Justice in 2019. As well as considering the issues affecting all practitioners working in Criminal Legal Aid, the focus group discussions covered a range of issues, including: the specific issues affecting female practitioners, junior practitioners and practitioners from ethnic minority backgrounds; the experience of Legal Executives and Paralegals; how Criminal Legal Aid firms are run and the business decisions that individuals within those firms have to make; and the lessons that can be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Engagement with Former Suspects and Defendants

The review is engaging with people who have been represented by a Criminal Legal Aid lawyer in the last 5 years, to understand their experience of the Criminal Legal Aid System. The review team have been working closely with the Youth Ambassadors for the Youth Justice Board, who have been leading workshops and peer to peer engagement on our behalf. The team are also participating in a variety of meetings to get the views of children and young adults. The review team is running around 10 in-depth interviews with people through the organisations belonging to the Criminal Justice Alliance. The team will also run a further 10 interviews with people in prison and on probation through the Prisoner Policy Network at the Prison Reform Trust. These interviews will be delivered in partnership with experts who specialise in gathering perspectives from individuals in prison. All interviews will be led by peers, or people with lived or learned experience of the Criminal Justice System.

Student Survey

The review is running a survey of law students in England and Wales to gather data on their attitudes about pursuing a career in criminal defence. The survey aims to collect information about whether students have considered a career in criminal law, and if not, what could be done to make a career in criminal law more attractive. The survey also aims to collect information about demographic profiles to understand how these factors might influence student’s responses. Further discussions are planned with the Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC) and Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) to understand the perspectives of those who have recently entered the Criminal Legal Aid profession.

Regional Stakeholder Engagement

Sir Christopher is undertaking a series of regional visits across England & Wales, in line with the Covid 19 guidelines, to obtain first-hand experience of what is happening nationally, on the ground. The visits are taking place between 18 May to 24 June 2021 and will cover the north, north east, south east, west of England as well as the midlands and Wales. These visits will include roundtable discussions with a range of practitioners and the judiciary. Sir Christopher will also be visiting police custody suites, Magistrates and Crown Courts within the different regions.

Sir Christopher recognises the importance of drawing on existing research relevant to the review and hearing from academics who have specialised in studying criminal law, legal aid provision and the Criminal Justice System. Sir Christopher has also run a series of roundtables with a range of academics who have conducted research relevant to the Criminal Legal Aid System.

Expert and Advisory Panel

The expert and advisory panel have been meeting on a monthly basis since February. Panel members are contributing their expertise to ensuring the review tackles the key issues impacting the functioning and sustainability of the Criminal Legal Aid System.

More information on the progress of the review will be shared in due course.

Data compendium providing summary information on publicly funded criminal legal services (PDF, 2.08MB, 119 pages) (This document can be translated into the Welsh language if requested)

Data compendium tables (ODS, 277KB)

The aim of the data compendium is to summarise some of the key descriptive pieces of information, which is newly available on publicly funded criminal legal services, for the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid. This data is the result of linking up data held by the Law Society (LS), the Bar Council (BC), the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Although this data compendium is intended to be one of the key initial sources of evidence to feed into the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid, it is important to note that this is the first publication using this data and, therefore, it presents a broad overview of the main features of the provider base from the data shares. It is likely that more detailed analysis will be carried out in line with the interests of the Independent Review team and further publications may follow.

The LS, BC, LAA, CPS and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) worked together to combine some of their key datasets. For this, two separate data sharing agreements were signed: one between the MOJ, BC and the CPS relating to barristers undertaking public criminal work, and another one between the MOJ and the LS relating to solicitors and solicitor firms undertaking legal aid criminal defence work.

These data sharing agreements have allowed, for the first time, to link up publicly funded legal aid case payments with information on characteristics of law firms, their solicitors and the barristers that received those payments.

The data covers several years and thus allows an exploration of changes over time. The data compendium is the first publication summarising this data and includes chapters on the characteristics of solicitor firms in the criminal legal aid (CLA) market, solicitors and trainees identified as working for CLA firms; duty solicitors on the LAA duty solicitor rota and; publicly funded self-employed criminal barristers.

Call for Evidence

The Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid has launched a Call for Evidence, opening on from 29 March 2021 and closing on 28 May 2021. Sir Christopher Bellamy, Chair of the Review, is inviting interested parties at the heart of the Criminal Legal Aid System to submit evidence on how the system as a whole can be improved and placed on a sustainable footing for the future.

We are particularly, but not exclusively interested in hearing the views of criminal defence practitioners, representative bodies, charities, and end users of the system. We also invite contributions from academics who have carried out relevant research. Responses can either be submitted online via Consult Justice or sent to iclar@justice.gov.uk. All questions do not need to be answered if respondents are only interested in some aspects of the Call for Evidence.

Provider Survey

On 6 May, the review launched a survey among firms that currently undertake publicly funded work on criminal cases. The survey will help the review understand the financial position of firms providing criminal legal aid services. A representative sample of approximately 400 firms was randomly selected to participate in the survey. The survey was due to close on Friday 28th May 2021 but has been extended to Friday 4th June 2021.

If your firm has been selected and you have any questions, please contact the review team on: providers_survey_iclar@justice.gov.uk.

Please note that this survey is separate from the Call for Evidence.

Next steps

The Independent Criminal Legal Aid Review will examine a range of data and evidence. The review will report in 2021 submitting recommendations to the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland. The MOJ will aim to publish the report alongside the government’s response on GOV.UK before the end of 2021.

For any enquiries or if you would like to get in contact with the Review Chair (Sir Christopher Bellamy), please contact iclar@justice.gov.uk.