A PROJECTED fall in duty solicitors in West Mercia has been predicted to cause a "perfect storm" in criminal justice.

Across England and Wales, figures show the number of duty solicitors has fallen by more than a quarter since 2017, while the government has pushed through its police officer uplift programme to recruit 20,000 new officers.

The Law Society said this is "creating a perfect storm in criminal justice", reporting instances of police releasing suspects because of absent legal representation.

Analysis of Ministry of Justice data by the Law Society suggests there will be 48 duty solicitors registered in West Mercia in 2027 – down from 69 this year.

In 2017, there were 88 duty solicitors, meaning there is predicted to be a fall of 40 solicitors in a decade.

The Law Society said the projections nationally show a continued collapse of duty solicitor schemes, meaning suspects are not provided with the independent legal support they are entitled to.

Lubna Shuja, president of the independent professional body representing solicitors in England and Wales, has called on the government to "stop short-changing" defence solicitors and implement a 15 per cent rise in legal aid rates.

Nationally, there were 5,550 duty solicitors in 2017 – this has dropped to 4,100 as of April 2023, and is projected to fall by more than 2,000 over a decade to 3,480 in 2027.

Meanwhile, separate Home Office figures show more than 20,000 police officers have been recruited across the country as a part of the government's uplift programme.

West Mercia Police's target was 311 – which was surpassed by recruiting 330 extra officers by March 2023.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "We are putting the legal aid sector on a sustainable footing and expect our reforms to criminal legal aid will increase investment in the solicitor profession by £85 million every year, including an initial fee increase of over 15 per cent for their work in police stations and magistrates’ courts."