A prominent subject still at the forefront of the legal profession is that of legal aid. As discussed in last week’s blog, the government have made proposals which will be pushed through as secondary legislation. This means that not even a debate in parliament will take place over the proposals. The proposals will have a devastating effect on the criminal justice system and will leave many people without access to justice; a fundamental right within a ‘democratic’ society.
Let one take a scenario. Image you have been arrested for murder. A crime which carries a sentence of life imprisonment. The evidence points at you; the evidence could be enough for a jury to convict you. There’s just one problem, you didn’t do it. You’re innocent. The police who are already under enormous pressure including that of performance targets don’t review the evidence properly. They take it on face value and make a decision to charge you. The case file is sent to the CPS who again are under enormous pressure and they don’t review the evidence in its entirety. They make a decision to prosecute. You’re denied bail due to the serious nature of the offence; it’s not in the public interest to let a ‘murderer’ walk free on bail. You’re locked up awaiting trial for months, perhaps longer. You’re still innocent though remember? Tesco or G4S may have won the contract to be a bulk provider of legally aided criminal defence work. They have been passed the case file. The case file contains hundreds of pages of evidence which is ‘seen’ and thousands of pages of evidence which is ‘unseen.’ Lawyers don’t get paid to review the ‘unseen’ evidence so it’s not looked at. The police didn’t have the time or resources to review it properly either. Little beknown to anyone at this point but in those thousands of pages of ‘unseen’ evidence there is one page which irrevocably proves your innocence. It proves that you could not have committed the murder. It casts light on how the evidence at face value points towards you. But under the new proposals your Tesco or G4S lawyer won’t have the time or resources to look at any of the ‘unseen’ evidence either. They will be processing crimes like this in bulk and for a small amount of remuneration. They want to make a profit. They have no interest in justice. The lawyer briefly looks over the ‘seen’ evidence and advises you to plead guilty. Nobody will ever discover the ‘unseen’ evidence. You go to court and you are convicted. The judge feels the circumstances of the case warrant a particularly high seriousness and you are given a minimum custodial sentence of thirty years. You’re only 20. You’ll be 50 by the time you ever have the chance to even think about walking free again. Your life is ruined beyond comprehension.
You will be the first of many who will fall victim to the proposals. Under the current system you will be given a solicitor who will take the time to look through all of the ‘unseen’ evidence. They will spot the page that proves your innocence and you will be acquitted.
The new proposals will convict the innocent and let the guilty walk free in so many situations. The new proposals will erode the fundamental rights of many. The fundamental freedoms in which this country was founded upon and those in which make us proud to be British. England is world renowned for having the best justice system in the world. This is soon to become a thing of the past through secondary legislation which will be pushed in through the back door.
The e-petition in which was mentioned in last week’s article has now reached over 31,000 signatures. As with all e-petitions, once they reach 100,000 signatures a sequence of events are triggered: The Leader of the House of Commons must write to the Backbench Business Committee, who are responsible for the scheduling of debates on e-petitions, informing them that the petition has reached 100,000 signatures. The Backbench Business Committee must then schedule a debate in Parliament on the matter, where it can be freely discussed, openly and democratically.
The e-petition is still gaining momentum but is still a long way from the target of 100,000 signatures. Please sign the petition. Please continue to tell everyone you know to sign the petition and please let’s not give up on the fight to save UK justice!
The e-petition can be found here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628
LLB Student & Aspiring Barrister