Cuts to legal aid came into force from the 1st April, and have completely removed access to legal aid from many of the civil areas of justice, including welfare and benefits and many immigration cases. This denies many people access to justice.The reforms to the criminal legal aid system are so bad that even lawyers are demonstrating against them today. It’s not hard to see why. Following the reforms, anyone asking for legal aid will no longer have a choice of solicitor. Instead they will be assigned the lowest bidder, who will be paid a flat fee for the case, no matter how long it takes them. The usual suspects like G4S are lining up for contracts, along with a surprising contender – Stobarts, better known for their lorries.
Being paid a flat fee means that it is in the interest of the solicitor to spend as little time as possible on the case. This means encouraging clients to plead guilty, rather than having to undertake time consuming case work, followed by a potentially lengthy trial. With no choice of solicitor, defendants will not be able to move from one who is chasing targets (and probably bonuses), to one who is interested in achieving justice.
Update: Dec 2013, the plans for the lowers bidder and no choice of solicitor have been dropped
Sandra Kane from the Birmingham Law Centre told us that
The cuts to criminal legal aid extend the devastating blow that this government has already meted out to the civil legal aid scheme and further erodes the right to be represented for those unable to pay. Once again its the poorest and most vulnerable who are the hardest hit
And now the Tories are talking about privatising the courts themselves (though the Ministry of Justice deny any such plans – with all court buildings and personnel bar magistrates and judges being sold off to private companies, quite possibly the same companies that will be supplying the defence lawyer. Throw in the private prisons and the attempts to privatise larger parts of the police service, and what we are seeing is the total corruption of our justice system.
We are not so far from a situation in which you can be arrested by a G4S cop, taken to a G4S police station where a G4S duty solicitor will see you, to court represented by a G4S legal aid solicitor (assuming neither they nor the duty solicitor got you to plead guilty), before being taken from the courts by G4S security officers to a G4S prison before finally being passed on to a G4S probation officer.
From start to finish the interest of those involved in the system is to get as many people into prison as possible. This is the most profitable outcome for the companies involved and as in the USA they are and will be lobbying for laws that allow them to make the most profit they can by criminalising as many people as possible. We must act now to prevent our justice system being sold off to the lowest bidder to seek the highest profit.