Legal Aid cuts: Where are we now?

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The Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) final consultation response was published on 27 February 2014. This was a sad day for not only the practitioners involved and the criminal bar as a whole, but also a sad day for justice. The response made it clear that the MOJ are going ahead with their savage fee cuts as planned, failing to heed to the masses who have tenaciously opposed such cuts. The Criminal Bar, however, are not giving up.

Even through the proposals are now finalised and the first cuts are to come into force from 20 March 2014, the Criminal Bar are still not accepting defeat. A further protest took place on Friday 6th March 2014, with a whole day of action. Barristers not going to court and instead taking to the streets outside Parliament, followed with a march to the MOJ HQ in Petty France. Furthermore, as of Monday 10th March 2014, the Criminal Bar implemented their no returns policy. You can read all about this here.

 

This morning, Saturday 15th March 2014, the Attorney General speaking at the Bar Conference stated, ‘the more disruption that is caused, the more danger there will be of the government imposing radical solutions.’ Nobody knows what these radical solutions may be, but it doesn’t seem like there are many available. Some which have been mentioned are:

 

  1. The mass roll out of the Public Defender Service (PDS). This is effectively the government attempting to do the job of the criminal bar themselves. They have advertised for ‘Queen’s Counsel, Senior Higher Courts Advocates and Junior Higher Courts Advocates’ with salaries advertised at £46036 to £125000. Not bad with all the benefits of being employed on top (paid holiday, paid sick leave, paid maternity/paternity, pension scheme etc.) But this is a perfect example of the MOJ biting its nose to spite its face. An independent study showed the PDS to be around one and a half to two times more expensive than that of the Criminal Bar. They’re certainly not going to achieve any of the savings they are hoping for if they go down this route. Therefore, this a threat without merit. Moreover, the government are hell-bent on privatising everything, not bringing it all in house. Although, they could create it then just auction it off. KFC are the latest contenders; rumoured to be providing finger lickin’ advocacy.

 

  1. The removal of higher rights requirements in Crown Courts. This would have the effect of allowing solicitors to appear in the Crown Court without any advocacy training. This raises many considerations. First, would solicitors want to appear in the Crown Court? If not, the idea falls at the first hurdle. Second, the impact on trials must be considered. How well could solicitors do at defending and prosecuting trials, let alone the most serious ones? Would solicitors be able to provide such a robust level of advocacy that the criminal bar does? Solicitors are experienced and specialised in their own respective roles. They are not advocates and many do not want to be, hence why they became solicitors and not barristers. This option may seem attractive to the government, who have little regard for the effective administration of justice, but ultimately it will fail.

 

Neither of these options would work. They would cost much more in the long run. However, the government clearly do not even have this consideration on their radar. It seems to be all about saving money now, whatever the cost.

‘The game is to produce a short term saving for this government, which will cost the next government a fortune to repair, when you know that the next government will not be you. The only loser in this game is the public, victim and tax payer.’[1]

The costs the MOJ has already incurred in trying to reduce costs, will have already outweighed any savings they hoped to achieve. It has been a badly thought out plan in all areas. But hey, what else would you expect from a Lord Chancellor that has no experience or training in law?

On top of all of this, it must not be forgotten that the mass privatisation is continuing in all other areas of the criminal justice system. The court interpreters’ service which was privatised continues to be a massive failure. Hearings are now dubbed ‘Grayling Hearings’ when interpreters fail to show and cases are adjourned. The probation service privatisation pushes on with the potential for further immeasurable detrimental effects to the justice system, and now even the Land Registry part-privatisation is being snuck under the carpet.

It is clear no resolution is in sight. The MOJ refuse to engage into discussions with the Criminal Bar as to the many other areas of the criminal justice system where saving could be made. The Criminal Bar remain adamantly opposed to the cuts and the new regime. The fight continues. To be continued…

15/03/2014

Dale Timson

LLB (Honours) Student & Aspiring Barrister

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One thought on “Legal Aid cuts: Where are we now?

  1. I wonder what impact this has had nationally? Clearly you would imagine that people are struggling to pay for specialist solicitors, and as a result the justice system is not working to it’s greatest anymore.

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