News that existing criminal legal aid providers are being offered a further 18-month extension to their contracts with the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has been greeted with cynicism by the Law Society.
The LAA this week announced that the existing 2017 Standard Crime Contract will be automatically extended for a year to 31 March 2022.
It also announced an option for existing providers a further six-month extension to 30 September 2022.
While the initial year-long contract extension is automatic, existing providers will be expected to respond promptly to an offer for a further six-month extension.
The LAA indicated it wanted to avoid adding pressure on firms by launching a tender in April as was originally intended.
Responding to this, Law Society of England and Wales president David Greene said: “I must put it bluntly; the urgent need in the sector is for more money. Otherwise, we'll see more firms closing their doors."
“While the second part of the criminal legal aid review (CLAR) is now under way and will hopefully provide the structural increase in resources needed for the long-term sustainability of the sector, the announcement by the LAA means any benefits from it are some way off,” he commented.
Greene added: “We have consistently called on the government to recognise the persistent failure to increase payments for over 20 years and that an immediate increase is a necessity to provide criminal defence solicitors with the additional funds they so desperately need.
“The government must demonstrate it is committed to ensuring the position does not deteriorate further while they work out how to address the crisis.”
He said that while practitioners were “keen to see the review’s findings implemented as quickly as possible… today’s announcement will leave them concerned at how long a delay they may face before finally seeing the much-needed changes which CLAR must bring about”.
He warned “There is a grave danger that when those changes come it will be too little too late.”