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‘MoJ must take action to prevent the collapse of legal services providers’

Select committee highlights risks to high street firms, law centres and newly qualified barristers

The House of Commons Justice Committee has said that the Ministry of Justice must take action to prevent the collapse of legal services providers that will be needed as the measures to control Coronavirus are lifted. Without such action, the committee considers that "there is a clear risk that those seeking legal advice and representation will find that it is not there when they need it."

The committee's report – Coronavirus (Covid-19): The impact on the legal professions in England and Wales – documents how, due to social distancing and other safety measures, fewer cases have come to court, trials have been suspended and the incomes of legal services providers dramatically cut. The income effect has been hardest on young solicitors and barristers, and on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic lawyers – all of whom tend to be disproportionately represented in the publicly-funded Legal Aid sector already cash-starved before Covid-19 hit. The committee expresses concern that as a result of Coronavirus some barristers, solicitors, and law centres may collapse.

The report reaches stark conclusions:

"Newly qualified barristers face particular pressure. Small high street firms are particularly at risk from the effects of Coronavirus restrictions. Law centres and other not-for-profit legal advice providers are also at great risk."

The committee, which heard from Elspeth Thomson, Co-chair of Resolution (amongst other witnesses), says that it is important that the legal professions properly represent the society they serve, not least because they form a large part of the pool from which the Judiciary is drawn. The MOJ should set out what it will do to make sure that coronavirus restrictions on the justice system do not disproportionately affect the incomes of Black, Asian and minority ethnic or state-educated legal professionals, nor reduce their ability or desire to enter and work in the courts and tribunals system.

The report recommends:

For the full report, click here. For a summary, click here. For the conclusions and recommendations, click here.

9/8/20