Scottish Legal News, quoting The Times today, carries the following warning from Sir Brian Leveson – the Head of Criminal Justice of the judiciary in England and Wales. The shortage of lawyers practising in the field of criminal law is a real, and growing, problem here in Scotland also. The chronic under-funding of criminal legal aid, which has been the subject of repeated criticism on this website, lies at the heart of the problem. Whilst the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is handsomely funded and staffed, recruitment and retention of criminal defence practitioners are at crisis levels. If Sir Brian Leveson can see the writing on the wall…
A senior judge has warned that too few people are qualifying as criminal lawyers, The Brief reports. Sir Brian Leveson said that the average age of duty solicitors was currently slightly younger than 50.
Furthermore, he suggested a number of regions were “in danger of becoming advice deserts in relation to the availability of duty solicitors”.
Speaking at the London Criminal Courts’ Solicitors’ Association 70th anniversary dinner last week, he said: “If new young blood isn’t coming in, if spaces are left, people at a moment of extreme crisis facing criminal charges are left to their own devices.”
“Criminal solicitors are a vital cog in our delicately balanced justice eco-system,” he added.
“For those who find themselves accused of a crime they offer an early check against miscarriages of justice.”
Sir Brian also pointed to a similar problem at the bar, saying: “The knock-on potential consequences are a future shortage of judges experienced in criminal law. This worries me greatly.”
Commenting on the essential importance of criminal work, he said: “You attend police stations 24 hours of the day, 365 days of the year. Dealing with people in crisis, dealing with mental health and housing issues and the consequent effects on their families.”