Criminal defence solicitor Kerry Hudson: Why we’re boycotting burglary cases

The former president of the London Criminal Courts and Solicitors’ Association explains why cuts to legal aid have made them refuse to take on burglary cases
June 16, 2022

“If you’re a criminal defence solicitor, you’re not doing it because you’re gonna make £100,000 a year.”

Kerry Hudson is a solicitor and director at specialist criminal law firm Bullivant Law and a former president of the London Criminal Courts and Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA). The association is currently taking action against government cuts to legal aid by refusing to take on burglary cases. These are typically low paid, and things have now reached crisis point: “We do not want to do this,” Hudson says about the boycott. Leaving clients undefended is contrary to her fundamental commitment to access to justice. But the government has “taken so much money out of the system… we are currently operating on 1996 rates.” 

We meet at her office in a late Victorian building in the City of London—the receptionist takes me to the third floor in a wonderfully antiquated lift operated by hand with a lever. The grand surroundings are in stark contrast to the gritty nature of Hudson’s work, defending those accused of burglary, domestic violence and rape. But she is a bundle of smiles and energy—running on coffee and adrenaline, as the job means she is always on call: “I might just get a phone call in a minute of a murder down in Islington.” 

Hudson says Bullivant Law is “100 per cent behind” the boycott, as the fees paid by the Legal Aid Agency for burglary cases are so low that the firm makes a loss. 

Hesham Puri, current president of the LCCSA, says firms can receive as little as £221.64 for a case. In an independent report in 2021, former judge Christopher Bellamy described the situation for solicitors as “parlous” and recommended an injection of £135m per year into the system as “the first step in nursing the system of criminal legal aid back to health after years of neglect.” 

The situation is made worse by the gruelling nature of the job—an average day can turn into several days without sleep, because of back-to-back duties at the police station and in the magistrates’ courts. “I imagine it’s the equivalent of being like NHS doctors,” she says. “Even if I start off a day thinking, I’m going to have an office day to do client work… at any time the phone could ring because we’re on duty all the time.” 

Hudson, who grew up on a council estate in Essex, didn’t enter law until her mid-20s: “I probably was interested in doing law earlier, but I just didn’t have the confidence… people like me, from my background, don’t become lawyers. So that was the reason for the delay.” 

The work has given Hudson a thick skin, but some memorable cases stay with her: she was the first lawyer at the police station to advise Sarah Sands, a young mother from east London with no previous convictions who stabbed a convicted paedophile in 2014. Hudson represented a distraught Sands throughout the case—and when Sands’s sentence was appealed by the prosecution, she found it very emotional. As the solicitor, “you live the case with them: I spent hours with her up [at] Holloway prison.” 

Hudson is deeply worried about the future of the profession: many of her colleagues are burnt out. “I’m one of the younger ones, and I’m in my 40s now… we’re an ageing population.” Hudson had hoped that the Bellamy report would lead to change—I point to the fact that the Ministry of Justice has said it will honour the report’s recommendation to provide £135m in funding a year. Her response: “I do the billing every single month… Where is this money? The fixed fees are the same.” She is beginning to worry that the government doesn’t care about preserving a functional criminal justice system. “Maybe they don’t want people to have rights. Maybe they want Guantánamo Bay. I don’t know.”