Every little helps - tax relief for legal aid.
Walking along the high street in 2016 where between somewhere outside sainsbury local, and opposite Tesco express and The Amazon collection vault , I am approached by a person wearing a high vis vest. This is not an unusual sight since the last Tory government increased the use of community sentences by 50% with a further requirement that those participants used by Stobica to sweep our streets must make their status known by wearing these shirts , thus allowing all innocent members of the public to cross the street so as to avoid encountering any one marked as a convicted criminal.
Stobica won the contracts both for street cleaning and offender management services, and combining the two were able to find a means to be profitable whilst bidding at the bare minimum. The cleaner the streets and the less re-offending , the greater their end of year profits, their contract for both services being based on results .
I was wrong , the individual approaching me was not a criminal but with a smile and clip board in hand
" hello sir how are you today ? Can I just have a minute of your time ? "
I didn't want to stop , I already pay £5 per month direct debit to amnesty international as a result of a similar encounter 10 years ago, however, my curiosity got the better of me and I was intrigued to know what "Mind the Gap" was all about. I found out that many of their clients were not represented at court because they could not afford private representation and, because they were fortunate enough to be in (albeit poorly paid) employment, were not eligible for legal aid , but the vast majority were represented by lawyers who they met only once , were clearly under pressure by their employer and the court to progress the case at speed in order to keep cost to a minimum, did not have time to discus their case with them, did not scrutinise the evidence and often advised the innocent to plead guilty. The Prisons were full.
For a direct debit of £10.00 per month , I will be able to pay the fares for one of their volunteers to visit prisons and take instruction and obtain the files from the archives of Stobica. Not just that, but if I sign a gift aid certificate, Mind the Gap will benefit from the tax relief in the donation !
Last week (in the present 2013) I appeared as duty solicitor for a defendant charged under the dangerous dogs act, he was supported by a woman working for a charity that works to support those whose pets are facing destruction orders . After much unemployment he had finally scoured a job as a warehouseman, earning about £300 a week, he had been advised he wasn't eligible for legal aid. In order to avoid the destruction of his dog, he needed to instruct an expert to carry out a behavioural report, as the police no longer carry out this task . This would cost between £300 and £500 for him to be told what he knew about his pet already The charity stated that they would fund the report. This is the thin end of the wedge.
Hospital charities raise hundreds of thousands each year to fund the specialist units that the state are unable to, Kids Company is a charity set up to assist vulnerable and at risk children and young people who need support that is not provided through state funded organisations; Age concern is there to raise awareness and support for the older members of our society who are not adequately catered for; There are umpteen education charities set up for the benefit of children with special educational needs. These cuts will hardly assist in reducing the national deficit, but in this strap line era, I am sure someone at the check out of our careers will tell us "every little helps"
We now face the spectre of having to ask members of the public to support fundraising so that those who had previously been paid a salary to prevent miscarriages of justice are now tasked thanks to the generosity of donors to undo the damage caused by the "stack it high sell it cheap" defence service that will inevitably arise whether it be as a result of the tendering process or the inevitable further cuts . It is only at this stage that a defendant will have choice as to representation and that will be to approach the charity and ask to be added to their growing client base . Or worse still by a lottery ticket to raise funds to undo the damage caused to those victims of the alphabetical postcode lottery by which your lawyer is chosen.
So, as I am deliberating as to whether to sign the direct debit mandate , the "chugger" utters those magic words ....."every little helps" aghhhhhh !!!
Please don't let it come to this, so much of our work and so many of our clients rely on our charity already.