CRIME DOESN'T PAY (2)

So this weekend was school re-union time. A real treat. I wasn't on call and didn't have any defence preparation. Hooray!

The trip down memory lane got me thinking about whether I would advise the younger me to train to become a criminal legal aid solicitor. Because let's face it the government's proposals to cut criminal legal aid, introduce contracts for ?cowboy' contractors and deprive a client the right to choose their solicitor is frankly a slap in the face for justice.

So what of the younger me? Fresh out of school, I went to university for three years. Then I took the plunge and committed myself to several thousand pounds of debts and another year of study (Legal Practice Course) to so that I could become a solicitor.

I fell in love with criminal defence work early on in my two year on-the-job training in London. I would talk with wide eyed enthusiasm and tell tall tales of life at the police station that were so amazing even I struggled to believe they were true. The people I was working with cared passionately about what they did and that was infectious. They represented a variety of people, including the most vulnerable people in the community, a whole secret layer of people who were invisible to the public. The system was and is (but may not be in future if the proposed changes go through) all about balance. The system only works if there is effective Prosecution and Defence. It is how you achieve Justice and I believed it. I still do.

But looking back at my younger self, would I advise myself to take the plunge into criminal defence lawyering? For the first time in my professional career, I don't know if I would. The government wants to deny someone accused of a crime the right to choose their own solicitor. They want people to tender for work so that the cheapest offer wins. How can the lowest fixed fee possibly lead to people being properly represented? When a mentally ill client needs extra time to understand what he is charged with, is a cheap lawyer going to go that extra mile? Let's not forget innocent people are arrested, charged and face trial as well as the guilty. The system should acquit the innocent and convict the guilty. If these changes come in, I can not be confident that that will be the case. It's not the kind of ?justice' I would want if I were arrested.

Nonetheless, I know what the younger me would say to my words of caution. I would ignore me. Quite frankly, I believe that what I do is important. It is a constant challenge but one that is worth the fight.

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