Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Report says despite early wobble Public Defender Service provides vital protection

The results of a major, independent evaluation of the Public Defender Service (PDS) in England and Wales have been published today 31st July 2007  by The Stationery Office.  Professor Lee Bridges from The University of Warwick  who led the  research team said:  “Our report shows that despite early cost overruns, hurried implementation and poor initial planning the Public Defender Service can be  a  vital safeguard in  the new market-based system of criminal legal aid, providing protection against the market concentration and instability that may result from a system of competitive tendering for defence services”.  

The research involved a detailed comparison of the PDS and private criminal defence solicitors’ firms in six areas of the country (Birmingham, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Swansea, Pontypridd and Cheltenham).  The main findings of the research were:

  • That the PDS has been able to deliver high quality criminal defence, in most instances of an equal or higher standard than the best private criminal defence firms.  This finding is based on one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys, involving independent peer review, of the quality of criminal defence work ever conducted;
  • That the PDS has established a reputation amongst clients and other criminal justice professionals for the robust and independent defence of its clients.  For example, PDS lawyers more frequently advise their clients in police stations to exercise their right to silence, yet PDS clients are more likely to be released from police custody without charge.
  • That during its initial three years of operation (2001-4), when the PDS was building its client base, it incurred substantially higher costs than other criminal defence providers.  These high costs were the result of the intense competition amongst criminal defence providers in most of the areas where the PDS has operated, a situation exacerbated by the hurried implementation and poor initial planning of the PDS in terms of its objectives, staffing and location.  More recent evidence suggests that with a larger client base, the PDS can operate more efficiently.

 The research concludes by considering the future role for the PDS within the new ‘market-based’ system of criminal legal aid now being pursued by the Government and the Legal Services Commission, based on fixed fees and a rapid move toward competitive tendering among private practice solicitors in different areas of the country.  It suggests that the PDS has a vital role to play in  

  • providing protection against the market concentration and instability that may result from a system of competitive tendering for defence services. 
  • as a guarantee of client choice and quality in criminal defence services, and
  • in supporting future service improvement and innovation in this field.

Notes for Editors:  

  1. The report, Evaluation of the Public Defender Service in England and Wales, is  available from The Stationery Office in one of the following ways:·         Online - Simply visit TSO's Online Bookshop at ·        

    By Telephone - Please call +44 (0)870 243 0123 ·        
    By Fax - Fax your order to +44 (0)870 243 0129 ·        
    By Post - Write to Marketing, TSO, Freepost, ANG 4748, Norwich NR3 1YX    
  2. The Government’s intention to set up a salaried defence service, to work alongside private criminal defence solicitors,  was first announced in the White Paper, Modernising Justice (Cm 4155) in 1998, based on its view at the time that “in the longer term, the best approach will prove to be a mixed system, combining both private and staff lawyers.”   Since completion of the research evaluation of the PDS, the Legal Services Commission has announced the permanent closure of the PDS offices in Birmingham, Liverpool and Middlesbrough but is continuing to maintain PDS offices in Cheltenham, Darlington, Swansea and Pontypridd.     
  3. The research was conducted by a team consisting of Professors Lee Bridges of the University of Warwick; Ed Cape of the University of the West of England; Richard Moorhead of the University of Cardiff; and Avrom Sherr of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London.  All of the authors are available for comment, and contact details are given below:  

 Lee Bridges at the School of Law, University of Warwick on 01608 682327 or 07776182547

 Ed Cape at the Law Faculty, University of the West of England on 0117 32 82899


 Richard Moorhead at Cardiff Law School, Cardiff University on 07963 612005

 Avrom Sherr at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London 0207 862 5859 


For further information please contact: 

Peter Dunn, Press and Media Relations Manager, University of Warwick
Tel: 024 76 523708 mobile 07767 655860

PR65 31st July 2007