Monday 6 January 2014

The fight for criminal legal aid and justice

Protest ~ Old Bailey, London
Today, lawyers took unprecedented action in their campaign on criminal legal aid.  As far as anyone knows, there has never been a previous day when lawyers have decided not to attend court.  The reasons for the action are well explained in a post on the Legal Cheek blog - This is why criminal lawyers are striking today.

"This year some public sector workers will receive pay rises. Criminal barristers and solicitors, meanwhile, have been told to expect pay cuts of 17.5% for less serious cases and 30% for very high cost cases (VHCCs)."

See also this article and video in which Mark George QC explains clearly the likely impact on justice of the proposals.  Also, this interview (on Youtube) is well worth watching - Sarah Forshaw QC talks to Huw Edwards.  Further excellent comments in The Guardian's article: Legal Aid: is this the cut that kills?

In 2013 there were two consultations on legal aid - see the posts of 4th June 2013 and 5th September 2013.   The government's response to the second consultation is awaited.  There can be little doubt that, if these cuts are implemented, the future for an INDEPENDENT criminal bar will be very grim.  Young talented lawyers will not be able to afford to practice in criminal law and that would have devastating longer term consequences for justice both in terms of prosecuting cases and defending those accused.

The Ministry of Justice also stands charged
with issuing misleading statistics relating to barrister's income.  The figures are challenged in this statement of 6th January by Nigel Lithman QC (Chairman of the Criminal Bar association).  Some blogs have addressed this matter - see Misinformation by Public Bodies (Pupillage and how to get it blog); Life at the thin end of the wedge - The grim reality of the independent junior criminal bar  (50 Shades of Affray).

The Law Society Gazette notes that Half day protest attracts hundreds of demonstrators.  Here are three quotations from this article:

A) "Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association Nigel Lithman QC told the gathering at Westminster Magistrates’ Court: ‘On this momentous day we stand on the brink of the collapse of the criminal justice system. After 37 years at the criminal bar I don’t say that lightly.’

Branding the MoJ a ‘Leviathan eating away at the legal aid system’, he said access to justice is as important in a free society as education and the National Health Service."

B) The Westminster rally was also addressed by Janis Sharp, the mother of Gary McKinnon, who fought extradition to the US over computer-hacking charges, and Patrick Maguire, one of the Maguire Seven wrongly convicted in the 1970s of handling explosives.

Sharp said that without legal aid lawyers, her son would have taken his own life, while Maguire warned of an increase in undetected miscarriages of justice if the cuts are implemented.

C) "Labour MP for Westminster North Karen Buck said it is not just high-profile cases that will be affected; people from all backgrounds can find themselves accused of crimes. She stressed in particular the potential impact on young people, especially those who are homeless or who lack family support.

Many such people, she said, ask her for help finding a lawyer to represent them. ‘I am proud of the local legal aid firms who give them representation,’ she said but expressed concern that this may become harder in the future.

‘The relationship between the legal profession and [justice secretary] Chris Grayling and the government has broken down – that is a sad and worrying circumstance,’ added Buck."

The following - extracted from Twitter - show some of the protests at various court locations:

1 comment:

  1. The government is also proposing residency tests to ensure a person only qualifies for legal aid if they’ve been a resident of Britain for at least a year at some point in their life.
    Criminal Lawyers