Legal Aid

Crime doesn't pay (3)

PUBLISHED May 3, 2013

Crime doesn't pay?the life of a duty solicitor

Most of you probably imagine the life of a criminal solicitor to be way more glamorous than it is. After all we're fat-cats aren't we?? As the clock crept past midnight and I was waiting in the freezing cold office of the police station I was struck by how far from the truth this is- sadly. The drunk man who clocked me as a brief wanted me to pass the time dispensing free legal advice on all and every problem he had faced that year.

Some people take advice from anyone. Others won't. That is one of my profound concerns about the proposal for change put forward by this government. My firm represents generations of clients,we have literally known for years. They trust us. The plans to take choice away from legal aid defendants, giving them an allocated solicitor ? allocated by a call centre undoes years of groundwork we put in to provide fair justice for all.

I have a client I could mitigate for in my sleep. I don't mean this flippantly but I have dealt with him for many years. Well, you might think anyone could but bear with me. This client has severe learning difficulties. His concentration span is short and his patience for questions shorter. I know he was abused by a family member when very young. He was placed in care. There he was abused again. He suffered severe neglect as well which left physical as well as mental scars. He was later adopted and things improved but his past had left many limitations upon him.

I have a number of reports on him that I have used a number of times in his cases. I don't need to instruct a new doctor every time, because I know him. I don't have to quiz him again and again about the horror of his past. I know how to deal with him, how to calm him and how to make him understand. If I tell him that the case against him is overwhelming, he will listen. Otherwise, he slips into child -like denial of everything, even being there for example when he is shown on CCTV. Now Mr Grayling surely can't think that would be a good thing?

I know my learning-disabled client commits crime and some people may think he asks for what he gets. But a good lawyer, one with training and experience that knows him well can enable him not only to explain himself but also help the court. Timely advice can result in a guilty plea, it can result in issues being identified that may otherwise be missed. He often denies he has any difficulties at all. Following advice he pleaded guilty to an assault which meant a young person did not have to come to court to give evidence, the cost of a trial was avoided, the trauma of the victim averted and my client received credit for doing the right thing. And yet Mr Grayling says in the interests of austerity and market forces he wants us to give an ?adequate' service? Please!

There are many reasons people want to see the same face, or at least be able to choose the firm that represents them. That choice allows trust and trust is an important part of what I do. Take that away and there is little left?.It's that denial of access to justice, justice for all that I fear most from the new ?transformed criminal legal aid.'