True crime

The government’s consultation on “Transforming Legal Aid” closes today (4th June). I’d urge everyone with any interest in the criminal law to take a few minutes to reply to it, especially if you’ve got some (any) relevant organisational affiliation.

There is also a petition on 38 Degrees, created by Maura McGowan QC:

We are calling on the Ministry of Justice to reconsider its plans to introduce Price Competitive Tendering for criminal legal aid. We believe that people should be entitled to choose a lawyer to represent them based on quality, not just be allocated one on the basis of whoever can do the job for the lowest price.

As the Chairman of the Bar Council, I know that we have a legal system which is respected all over the world. These proposals will damage that beyond repair and hit the diversity of the legal profession hard. Cut price justice is no justice at all.

At the time of writing it has 45,529 signatures. Add yours.

There is a petition on the government’s own epetitions Web site, which currently has 75,469 signatures; if it reaches 100,000 it will be debated in Parliament. It’s short and to the point. It reads:

The MOJ should not proceed with their plans to reduce access to justice by depriving citizens of legal aid or the right to representation by the Solicitor of their choice.

Sign it.

Here’s why.

Desmond Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society:

the price-competitive tendering plans do not pass the most lightweight forensic examination. They promise a bulldozer through our criminal justice system for the sake of savings which are unlikely to be achieved. Impacts would be serious and long-term.

The plans have also been condemned by the Bar Council and the Bar Standards Board.

Robin Murray, writing in the Law Gazette:

Recently I was instructed by two police officers (the highest compliment an officer can pay to a solicitor one said) and on a separate mater an old friend I had not seen for many years. All intending to fight the allegations and hopeful to have some legal aid help due to their financial commitments. In future I would have to turn them away and ask them to telephone a call centre whilst I turned to my own equally allocated anonymous, sullenly resentful, case load referred to me by that same call centre.

I cannot believe that if a politician, MoJ civil servant or wealthy person were accused of a crime they did not commit that they would be content with being represented by a solicitor randomly allocated by a call centre. But they are content for the ‘little people’ they rule to be denied the same choice even when, as taxpayers, citizens will have paid through taxation for the right to be legally aided.

(Murray actually misses a trick here: under the proposals anyone with a disposable income of over £37,500 – in other words, a salary of 60-70K or higher – will be ineligible for legal aid. Down side: they’ll have to pay for their own representation. Up side: there’s no risk of an MP, a high-ranking civil servant, a newspaper editor or Hugh Grant experiencing the new system at first hand. This really is a system for the ‘little people’.)

Kim Evans at The Justice Gap warns that It could be you:

Under the proposals there won’t be any choice over who represents you in the police station. There won’t be small high street firms of local lawyers with local knowledge and a vested interest in doing a good job in order to earn repeat business. That’s because there won’t be any repeat business. … Companies with no connection to the law are looking to enter the legal services market as so-called alternative business structures (or ABSs) owing to last year’s de-regulation (under the Legal Services Act 2007). Small specialist firms on the high street won’t be able to bid because the contracts will be economically unviable. They will simply shut up shop.

So, at one of the very worst times of your life, you won’t be able to choose the person to see you through. You will be allocated a solicitor possibly as randomly as according to the first letter of your surname, or your month of birth. If you happen to re-offend because, for example, your mental health condition brings you to the notice of police, you won’t be able to have the same solicitor. You’ll have to start again from scratch.

At the same blog, Mark Newby draws out the implications for wrongful convictions:

The Grayling Plan effectively exponentially increases the prospects of miscarriage of justice and removes from the system those individuals who were dedicated to fighting for justice.

Cases like the Birmingham Six, Sam Hallam, Ian Lawless, Barry George, Stefan Kiszco, Sean Hodgson and the Cardiff Three are cases built of the platform of a dedicated criminal justice service and one which our secretary of state is about to destroy. This is all part of the invisible work of a profession which works tirelessly to act in the best interests of those that seek its help. The profession will never be amenable to the model of price competitive tendering. Once expertise is lost from our criminal justice system, it will be damaged beyond repair.

And a little bit of politics: “PCT plans risk creating a system of state-sponsored miscarriages of justice” – Sadiq Khan MP, Shadow Justice Secretary.

If you haven’t done so already, please sign the petitions.

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One Trackback

  1. By Save UK justice: the blogs | ilegality on 5 June 2013 at 19:53

    […] June: True Crime (The Gaping […]

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