Austerity, the buzzword that seems to fall from the mouths of politicians of most political persuasions, as if there was no alternative, is really starting to have an impact on the Criminal Justice System.
The majority of parochial firms rely almost entirely on payments from the Legal Aid Authority, for their income, yet, because of austerity measures, the fees being paid are so low, and are being reduced further, many firms fear they cannot survive. The area of publicly funded criminal defence work has not seen an increase in payment rates for over 20 years.
The argument seems to be that we were paid so well previously that the system was unsustainable, and so fees have been cut dramatically. I wish to be completely honest and confirm that many, myself included, made a decent living from this type of work in the past, but we work hard for it.
That work ethic remains but the reduced remuneration levels mean morale is at an all-time low. Newly-qualified solicitors are being recruited on salaries of £20k per year, if they’re lucky, with tales now abounding of desperate young professionals being employed on zero hour contracts.
They are supposedly the lucky ones as many are unable to find positions at all following a minimum of six years of expensive training.
Those who do find work deal with extremely stressful, often heart rendering, and at times gruesome situations where they are expected to maintain levels of professionalism that, in my opinion, are commendable.
The vast majority of criminal defence solicitors are not in it for the money. How could they be? They provide a service to their clients for which they should receive a fair level of payment to recognise the toil and commitment exhibited so consistently.
Are these the opinions of someone with a vested interest? Undoubtedly, but not merely to maintain my own position, or that of my colleagues, as I firmly believe the rule of law is the cornerstone of any civilised society.
As such, all of those who strive for justice by working within the Criminal Justice system should be properly remunerated.
The Government do not seem to agree, but all lawyers working within this field in Lancaster and Morecambe feel that enough is enough, and that it’s time they realised that Justice is worth fighting for.