CCRC consults stakeholders on legal aid increase
Legal aid fees for lawyers conducting CCRC work should increase by 15% as ‘a bare minimum’, according to the views of a stakeholder forum consulted by the CCRC.
To inform its submission to the Criminal Legal Aid Review, the CCRC created its own specialist consultation stakeholder forum that included members of the Law Society, Criminal Appeal Lawyers Association (CALA), the London Criminal Court Solicitors Association (LCCSA). The CCRC also considered the submissions made by those organisations and the Bar Council as well as academic research.
The specialist group scrutinised the current legal aid system including fees for CCRC work and debated what reforms would be needed beyond an uplift in the standard rate of pay to provide better legal aid support across the criminal justice system. This was then fed into the CCRC’s submission.
The CCRC has also noted the 15% will not address other issues associated with legal aid. These include the absence of funding for case assessment and there being no enhanced rates for complex cases requiring input from more experienced legal practitioners.
Lengthy delays in payment and undertaking unremunerated work are also issues the CCRC would like to see addressed as part of the reforms.
In its CCRC submission – it was noted that ‘the current fee structure for assisting with CCRC applications appears linked to a marked decline in the number of practitioners who are able and willing to undertake this work.’
In recent years, the CCRC has seen the proportion of applications from people without legal representation climb to around 95%. Typically, around 40% of CCRC applications come from people who still could, and in most cases should, appeal directly to the courts.
Well-structured CCRC applications made by legal representatives, help speed up the review process and reduce the administrative burden – for example, by ensuring that usual appeal rights have been exhausted by an applicant or that exceptional circumstances are clearly identified.
Helen Pitcher (OBE) and Chair of the CCRC said:
“An increase in fees for CCRC work is in line with the Government’s aspiration of attracting new and suitable legal providers. Just as important, it will help ensure the retention of existing ones who have experience in this area of work.
“The vast majority of our applications now come from people who are not legally represented. Regardless of whether applications are prepared with legal help or not, the CCRC ensures that all of these are given equal scrutiny and treatment.
“In our submission last year to the CLAIR (Criminal Legal Aid Independent Review) committee we made it clear inadequate levels of legal representation during police investigations and the trial process would lead to a serious risk of miscarriages of justice.
“This investment can only lead to an increase in efficiency, strengthen public confidence in us and most importantly help avoid miscarriages of justice.”
The consultation was built on earlier submissions made by the CCRC last June. The CCRC had then expressed its strong concerns within the Review about the declining levels of Criminal Legal Aid in relation to CCRC work and the danger this posed to the criminal justice system.
The CCRC stated there was a risk of increasing miscarriages of justice due to:
- Serious and inadequate levels of representation during the course of police investigations and the trial process
- Poor (or no) representation in police interviews,
- incomplete requests for disclosure and ill-informed guilty pleas.
A copy of the CCRC’s latest submission can be found here
Note to editors
- CCRC submissions made to the Criminal Legal Aid Independent Review were informed by academic research and from a recent study on criminal legal aid led by the University of Sussex – which built on earlier work from the University of Oxford and University of Warwick. A link to the June 2021 submission is here
- Following the Government response to the Criminal Legal Aid Independent Review, the CCRC has further consulted with academics and practitioners as part of a dedicated Stakeholder Forum sub-group to look at potential reforms to the Criminal Legal Aid System.
- The Criminal Cases Review Commission (“CCRC”) is an independent body set up under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. It is responsible for independently reviewing suspected and alleged miscarriages of criminal justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is based in Birmingham and is funded by the Ministry of Justice.
- There are currently 11 Commissioners who bring to the CCRC considerable experience from a wide variety of backgrounds. Commissioners are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in accordance with the Office for the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ Code of Practice.
- The CCRC usually receives around 1,400 applications for reviews (of convictions and/or sentences) each year. Since starting work in 1997, the CCRC has referred around 3% of applications to the appeal courts.
- The CCRC considers whether, as a result of new evidence or argument, there is a real possibility that a conviction and/or sentence would not be upheld were a reference to be made. New evidence or argument is argument or evidence which has not been raised during the trial or on appeal. Applicants should usually have appealed first. A case can be referred in the absence of new evidence or argument or an earlier appeal only if there are “exceptional circumstances”.
- If a case is referred, it is then for the appeal court to decide whether the conviction is unsafe or the sentence unfair.
- More details about the role and work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission can be found at www.ccrc.gov.uk The CCRC can also be found on Twitter: @ccrcupdate and Instagram: the_ccrc