The Ministry of Justice has announced the results of its consultation on the future of criminal legal aid. The results were published this week in a 30 page report.
The report opens with a foreword by the Minister of Justice. Criminal legal aid is a vital part of the justice system, he notes. But not so vital that it can’t be subjected to ruthless cuts. So instead of 1500 firms offering criminal legal aid there will just over 500 firms. They won’t be paid as much. So legal aid firms will close. This all starts next October.
The Minister says in his report that this will not be welcome to those law firms. Really?
There were nearly 4,000 responses to the consultation, mostly from law firms. They must be wondering why they bothered. Those consulted largely expressed views that had already been considered, said the report witheringly.
The effects of the cuts on those facing criminal prosecution are easy to foresee. Law firms will have to recruit cheaper, less experienced staff. Mistakes, inevitably, will be made. We at Prison Consultants receive a steady number of enquiries from clients and their families who are seeking to change lawyers because their lawyers are too busy, too stretched or too understaffed to handle their cases with the degree of attention and urgency our clients think their cases deserve. We explain that it is not the lawyers’ fault. The lawyers are operating under almost impossibly strict rules governing how much time they can spend on cases. And this is happening now, nearly a year before the cuts kick in.
When the cuts do kick in people in prisons will find it virtually impossible to obtain legal aid to fight their corner in cases involving disciplinary matters and categorisation.
The Government reckons that these cuts will save it £215 million.But by the time you factor in the costs of expensive re-trials and appeals, because cash strapped legal aid firms overlooked something first time round, the savings made won’t look so rosy.