Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Legal Aid

Unlike the current disarray in the Probation Service, which gives every impression of acting like the proverbial rabbit caught in the headlight's beam, the legal profession appear well-mobilised and united in responding to their own crisis concerning cuts and 'reforms' to the Legal Aid budget.

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.

It also found that two-thirds (67%) agreed that legal aid was a price worth paying for living in a fair society. The poorest would be hit hardest by the proposed changes, according to 75% of those polled.
More than two-thirds (68%) of those questioned agreed with the proposition that at less than 0.5% of annual government spending, "legal aid is a worthwhile investment in our basic freedoms".

Maura McGowan QC, chairman of the bar, said: "Successive governments have failed in their efforts to undermine public confidence in legal aid. In fact, most people think it is a good investment in a fair society. This poll provides the evidence which the government has failed to gather. The public hugely values our legal aid system and it is concerned about the consequences of the government's proposals.
"The Ministry of Justice should listen to what people are saying and the strong messages delivered by this poll. The public thinks a properly funded legal aid system is a price worth paying for living in a fair society; this is not just the view of groups of lawyers."
She added: "Too often lazy stereotypes are used to describe our justice system. An independent legal profession, which operates to the highest standards and competes on quality, is fundamental to a fair and democratic society. The government seems to have relied too heavily on those stereotypes when formulating these proposals, but it is desperately out of touch with voters. People do not want to see a further reduction of their defence against big government."
Now there will be those who feel that lawyers have been earning rather a good living off state-funded Legal Aid for some time. I'm tempted to quote the adage that says 'you never see a poor farmer', but of course you do. Anyway, blogger the Defence Brief tackles this head on and  provocatively suggests it be scrapped completely:-   
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.


  1. The Justice Secretary appears also to be studiously ignoring the concerns expressed by the courts, that his restriction of criminal legal aid will inevitably lead to a huge increase in the number of defendants who represent themselves - lacking the ability to do so - so slowing down the court process to the point where the extra cost far outweighs any savings on the legal aid budget.
    As an aside, if the criminal justice system really must be privatised, why can the government not restrict tendering to not-for-profit companies, which would at least keep things out of the hands of the megaproviders?

  2. Hi Jim. just to let you know I've added this post to the list I've been compiling:


  3. Legal aid priorities to serve to the interests of people with with quality services. They strive to engage our clients in finding solutions to their legal problems. Nice blog it is that focus on some of the important points related to Law & Justice.

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