Legal Aid

Cuts threaten right to a fair hearing

PUBLISHED October 12, 2006

Linda Woolley - President, London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association

Jonathan Freedland rightly concludes (Comment, October 11) that legal aid matters - a refreshing change from lawyers being portrayed as fat cats. The truth is that profits for firms providing publicly funded criminal defence services average from 2-6%. The Carter review's proposals may result in overall savings of 10%, but these reforms are arbitrary in effect - London firms will come off worse, suffering losses of over 27%; and discriminatory in nature - it will no longer be economic for lawyers to represent clients who are denied bail, suffer from a mental illness, or are accused of fraud or a sexual offence.

Criminal lawyers act as a check on the excesses of the state. We ensure that the rule of law is upheld - lofty ideals, maybe, but can we really trust the government and the prosecuting agencies in this regard? History tells us not, and if these proposals are enacted, it will be too late to turn the clock back. There won't be any of us left to say "I told you so".

Anna Reisenberger - Acting chief executive, Refugee Council

The proposed cuts in legal aid will also affect the asylum system. The proposals mean significant reductions in the time legal representatives will be able to spend with clients, which will make it even less likely that an asylum-seeker will get a fair hearing. Separate funding will not be available for interpreting and translation, meaning the full story of what people have experienced may never be heard. Home Office decision-making on asylum cases is already extremely poor and the appeals system remains an essential mechanism for ensuring those who need safety here are able to get it - almost one in four appeals are successful. There is a real risk that good legal representatives will be forced to move to other areas of law as they will be unable to adequately represent their clients. Ultimately, the government is proposing a system that could lead to the worst possible outcome: people who have fled their country in fear of their lives being returned to face the very danger they have sought protection from.

Kim Speller - Frank Brazell & Partners, London

The Carter cuts not only affect crime, but family law, particularly care proceedings where social services remove children they believe, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly, from their families. The court usually appoints a solicitor to act for the child and parents find their own solicitor. But almost all solicitors in this field of law will be forced out of business and legal representation will be decimated by the cuts which come into effect in April 2007. Funding is to be reduced by some 40 to 50%. A fixed fee will be paid of about ?4,000 per case while our present average cost is about ?8,000 to ?9,000.