It would seem one motive for the Government’s desire to make cuts to legal aid would appear to be the fact that they think they can get away with it without losing many votes; other than a minority of lawyers, nobody else seems to really know about the cuts let alone realise how they may be affected. Despite the plight of many barristers and solicitors, public awareness surrounding the cuts still seems disappointingly dismal, and many that are aware fail to understand how they could be affected.
How will people be affected?
Well if you are a criminal barrister you will see your fees reduced by 17.5% and 30% for some of the most serious cases.
This is obviously a reason to be against the cuts and to strike against them, or is it?
The government want people to believe that criminal barristers nearly all earn at least £80,000 with most of them earning about £500,000. This is not true. In reality a car mechanic in London earns around double that of a junior criminal barrister.
What must be understood is the fact that the majority of barristers that work within criminal law do so because they have a thirst for justice; they strive to uphold the rule of law and ensure everyone has by right a fair trial. They value justice and see it as their role to uphold it. They fight to see the innocent walk free and the guilty convicted.
Criminal legal aid cuts will mean less people will be entitled to representation and more people will be left to defend themselves. This is already happening with more and more people being seen in court representing themselves. This can lead to the innocent being found guilty and the guilty walking free. An unrepresented defendant is a dangerous vehicle. The law can be complicated. Procedure around the law including evidence can be highly complicated. This is why historically lawyers have been paid well. The law is very complicated and it requires the most able individuals to be able to understand it well. Just like the medical profession. Doctors get paid well because what they do is difficult. Nobody seems to be arguing that doctors get paid too much. They do not continually get their fees reduced, year on year. What they do is recognised as important and this too should be true of practitioners within the law. An unrepresented defendant cannot possibly be expected to come anywhere near close to having the skill or expertise as an experienced advocate. They cannot be expected to, and will not be able to do the same thing.
Legal aid cuts will not only lead to more defendants representing themselves, but of the practitioners left, the quality will reduce. As the author of this article, having always had a passion for criminal law, I will no longer pursue a career within it. Instead I will make the sensible decision to pursue other areas of law; a conscious decision many students are making in their droves at present. At some point in the future this will result in a severe shortage of skilled advocates who are able to advise and represent people in some of the most complex and serious cases. The gap of people entering the profession now will result in a gap of experienced practitioners in 5, 10, 20 years’ time and so forth. A lower quality of legal representation will result in more miscarriages of justice and less convictions. The most able and the best minds should be being attracted into criminal law. Criminal law requires it. The liberty of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society depend upon it day after day. Such people will soon be receiving advice and representation by a new generation of lawyers that are incentivised to advise people to plead guilty, that see clients as numbers on a conveyer belt, offering nothing like the service in which these clients are entitled to as a fundamental human right.
Are you happy to be at a higher risk of being wrongfully convicted? Are you happy to live in a society where there is a higher chance of offenders walking free? The answer is surely no, in no uncertain terms. The opposite is a highly unattractive proposition which should send shivers up the spine of even the most conservative on looker.
Going back to the question asked in the title of this blog: Legal aid cuts: What will they mean for me? They will affect you; they will affect everyone, and as a result, they must be opposed. The legal profession should be supported in their endeavours to fight these changes. Spread the word, talk to someone, anyone, tell them the reality of the situation. Increased public awareness can help to influence the government in this matter leaving them with no alternative but to back down. Back down being something in which the government must do; the foundations of this society depend upon it; the core of justice as it is known relies upon it. The rule of law hinges on it.
Knowledge is power and sharing the truth can help to make a difference.
LLB (Honours) Student & Aspiring Barrister