According to this article in the Guardian, the Bar Council have published the results of an opinion survey that shows 71% of the public feel that the cuts will inevitably lead to further miscarriages of justice:-
The research was carried out in response to proposals from the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, to reduce the annual criminal legal aid budget by £220m. Under the plans, the cost of judicial reviews will rise steeply, lawyers' fees will be slashed and criminal legal aid contracts awarded through competitive tendering. The consultation closes on 4 June.
The Bar Council opinion poll, carried out by ComRes, found that seven in 10 (71%) respondents were concerned that cuts to legal aid could lead to innocent people being convicted of crimes they did not commit if forced to use the cheapest defence lawyer available.
Lawyers have a reputation for being money grabbing bastards of the lowest level. It is quite clear when you speak to some people that they cannot differentiate the criminal defence lawyer from the drug dealer or violent husband whom they represent. I gather this is much the same for soap-opera actors who must put up with being treated as their characters as they shop for underpants.
The current campaign by lawyers of both main legal professions against the legal aid reforms is mostly being ignored by the general public and the media. But, when the public do hear of it many seem to take the view that the campaign is a fight by lawyers protecting their own income.
The truth is that if lawyers got into the legal aid game to make quick and easy cash then they are fools because legal aid has never been well paid in comparison to other areas of privately funded law.
More telling is the fact that so many lawyers oppose the government’s legal aid reforms. If lawyers of both professions were interested solely in money rather than justice, the justice system and the interests of their clients’ and society then they would be campaigning against legal aid being available to anybody. In fact, lawyers did campaign against the introduction of legal aid in the 1940s (I seem to recall legal aid as we know it appeared around 1949 along with the NHS) because they feared that the lower fees would result in a brain drain from the profession that would lead to a reduction in quality.
Today, lawyers who are only interested in money would not want legal aid for anybody. They would be fighting against the legal aid system and in favour of individuals financing their own cases. We could make extra cash by flogging punters (or more likely their families) lovely finance deals. Would we get paid? Of course we would. Look at how many people are willing to spend vast sums just to keep their driving licence. Imagine what you would spend to avoid missing the next 4-years of your child’s life. In the USA people risk bankruptcy to avoid prison; there’s no reason to think the British wouldn't pay up to stay free.
There is understandably quite a strength of feeling over this issue amongst solicitors and barristers and it's admirably demonstrated by these two open letters to Mr Grayling that are being widely circulated on the internet and are well worth a read. The first is from blogger theintrigant and the second from London solicitor Stephen Bird.
These changes are potentially going to make things a whole lot worse for probation clients and we would do well to be making common cause with our legal profession colleagues. So, why not consider signing a different No10 petition? It can be found here.