Thursday, May 30th, 2013
The Ministry of Justice, headed by The Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling, has launched a consultation regarding the future of legal aid in criminal defence.
The changes proposed in the consultation document are as follows:
The main change is that law firms who currently practice in criminal law will be replaced by justice providers. There will be a limited number of justice providers per justice area. In South London, from Woolwich to Richmond, there will be eighteen justice providers.
If you are arrested then you will be allocated a justice provider at the police station. At present you have a choice of solicitor who specialises in criminal law who will be funded by legal aid. You will not have that choice under these proposals.
There is currently a consultation on how clients will be allocated to justice providers. It may be by first initial, day of the month that they were born or star sign. However people are allocated to the justice provider, they will be secure in the knowledge that the provider they have to represent them is there because the company that he/ she works for agreed to do it for the least money.
You may wonder why choosing a lawyer matters. The simple answer is that this is the only way that quality representation can be assured. All firms who practice in criminal law have to offer a good service. If they do not then they do not get clients coming back to them. If they do not they do not get recommended to others. In this work reputation is very important.
There is no incentive to provide a quality service for clients if you are allocated clients who do not have a choice. If you are arrested in future you will not be able to change justice provider, even if you are dissatisfied with the service. You will be represented by a justice provider who is badly paid and overworked, who knows that you cannot go elsewhere to be represented unless you can afford to pay for your defence and who gets paid the same whether you plead guilty or go to trial.
Why would the cut price justice provider work towards your defence at trial if they haven’t persuaded you to plead guilty? They will be paid the same low fee whether you plead guilty or whether you go to trial. Preparing a defence involves analysing the evidence, visiting scenes, interviewing witnesses, obtaining evidence from the prosecution. The overworked, underpaid justice provider would not do this and trials will be unprepared.
Of course if you can pay you have a choice of representation, if you can find a lawyer who still practices criminal law. If you win your case, i.e. you are found not guilty, you may think that you will get your legal fees returned to you. Unfortunately, the government changed the law in October last year so that if you are found not guilty you will not receive your private costs back. So, if you pay for a lawyer of your choice and you are found not guilty you will not get your money back. You will pay for going through the courts and being not guilty.
Price competitive tendering has already been introduced into the criminal justice system. Court interpreting services were put out to tender. The cheapest tender won. Interpreting services in court since this was introduced are shambolic. It is common for the court and lawyers to wait all day at court for an interpreter to arrive. In a recent case a crown court was kept waiting for two days because the company providing interpreting services could not send an interpreter to court. Most interpreters who provided a professional service before refused to work for the low pay offered by the company. The quality of interpreters plummeted. The government have just bailed out the company who provides court interpreting services with tax payer’s money. More tax payer’s money has been wasted in keeping courts waiting for interpreters to attend.
This is the example that the government seeks to follow by introducing tendering to defence services.
These proposals affect everyone. Imagine if your teenager hacks into someone’s computer that they should not, or hits someone who was attacking them. Imagine if you are involved in a car accident that results in someone’s death. Imagine if someone makes a false allegation against you. These proposals will have an impact on you or your children if you are arrested and if you are taken to court.
These proposals do not discriminate between the innocent and the guilty. Everyone, innocent or guilty, will be subjected to the same inadequate defence. The rates of conviction whether you are innocent or guilty will rise. The rule of law will diminish.
If your reputation or freedom is on the line, you need an experienced specialist lawyer or team of lawyers to fight your case as hard as they can and with great expertise. These proposals will ensure that the right to a high quality defence is only available to those who can pay and can afford to not get their money back.
These proposals will not save the taxpayer money. They will cost the taxpayer more money, in delays in court, in people sacking their inadequate justice provider and representing themselves, in more people going to prison wrongly, in more appeals against findings of guilt.
There will be some beneficiaries of these proposals, namely the shareholders of the large companies who will get the contracts for defence work. Taxpayers money will go towards the profits of private companies who pay their directors far more than any defence lawyer is paid.
Please sign the petition to make your voice heard against these proposals which will have a profound effect on you and your freedom.
Please click here to sign the Save UK Justice petition.