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AN EXODUS of legal-aid lawyers triggered by two decades of low pay is putting the fairness of the justice system at risk, MPs warned today.
Legal firms are facing difficulties retaining defence lawyers, with a significant number switching to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), a report by the Commons justice committee found.
Lawyers’ fees were drastically reduced as part of huge legal-aid cuts introduced in 2012, slashing the budget by £750 million.
The committee found that there are serious problems with the current fee schemes for criminal legal aid and that the rates do not reflect the work required.
The report concludes that without significant reform, “there is a real chance that there will be a shortage of qualified criminal legal-aid lawyers to fulfil the crucial role of defending suspects and defendants.
“This risks a shift in the balance between prosecution and defence that could compromise the fairness of the criminal justice system.”
To prevent the exodus of legal-aid lawyers, the report recommends ministers to consider linking legal-aid fees to the rates of pay of the CPS.
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