In response to the government’s response to the latest legal aid consultation, Nicola Hill President of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association said today,
This announcement by the Justice Secretary is a shameful day in legal and criminal justice history. Cutting legal aid fees so that experienced legal aid lawyers are driven out of business, leaves clients at the mercy of low-paid, unqualified lawyers - unless of course they are rich enough to afford a private lawyer. Which let’s face it, most are not. These newly confirmed cuts are a short-cut to a two-tier system, where justice becomes a luxury not a right. This can’t be right for any defendant, whose liberty, family and livelihood are often at stake.
Working families and the vulnerable will sadly be left with the crumbs of legal aid. It’s no exaggeration to say that not only will these cuts cost lawyers their jobs, more importantly they will see trials collapsing, the innocent going to jail, the guilty walking free. And all this for taxpayer savings that we have repeatedly proved do not need to be made. Of course justice needs not just to be fair but also cost-effective. It also needs to adapt to changes in society and economic forces. But if the Lord Chancellor had listened properly to our practical suggestions about how to improve efficiencies and make savings in police stations, courts and prison procedures he wouldn’t need to resort to these devastating measures.
Today a State owned bank which has lost money hand over fist for 6 years is allowed by the State, its majority shareholder, to pay out bonuses of £576m. This money is individual taxpayer's money. On the very same day, those same taxpayers are told that legal aid for defending themselves against State allegations is being slashed by millions. Just a fraction of the money lavished on RBS bonuses. So it's austerity for taxpayers and their access to justice, but yet more excess for a failing State-owned bank. For these two announcements to come out on the very same day is apt. It shows the perverse priorities of this government. No wonder they have stopped claiming that 'we are all in this together'. They know people just laugh when they hear that.
Criminal defence lawyers are now, however, more resolved than ever to oppose the implementation of these cuts. That’s why in a week’s time (March 7) we’ll be taking action, marching through central London- united with our colleagues at the Bar. The government and the public needs to see what happens when justice is undermined. That’s why the next day of action will be more disruptive to courts than the earlier action in January this year. Knowing ‘the price of everything and the value of nothing’, the MOJ’s decision offends this country’s proud legal history 800 years after the introduction of Magna Carta. Criminal defence lawyers can’t stand by and allow the rule of law and the principle of a fair and quality defence for anyone accused of a crime be wrecked in one final blow for justice."