Legal Aid

Legal aid cuts threaten to undermine right to fair trials

PUBLISHED November 20, 2006

Sir - At last someone seems to have recognised the looming crisis for publicly funded criminal defence services. Joshua Rozenberg ("Cuts in legal aid fees will not serve justice", report, November 16) correctly identifies the increased risk of miscarriages of justice, and the crown court case that he highlights illustrates the point perfectly.

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Can it be right that a solicitor will be paid the same fee ? ?266.38 plus VAT ? for spending two hours representing a suspect arrested on suspicion of shoplifting as he would for attending someone detained at Paddington Green police station under the Terrorism Act for anything up to 24 hours?

The scheme devised by Lord Carter's inquiry into defence funding was based on flawed and inadequate data, and, before any wholesale change is implemented, a proper data collection exercise needs to be undertaken. The profession warned the Government that the new system of means-testing for criminal legal aid was poorly designed and would lead to serious disruption in the courts, but it pressed ahead regardless.

Will it show the same arrogance in relation to the procurement of publicly funded criminal defence services? If it does, it will undoubtedly fail the British public in its duty to ensure a fair and sustainable system that guarantees access to justice. Only the rich will be able to afford a proper defence and the maxim "all men are equal in the eyes of the law" will be lost forever.

The current problems are not just short-term: the damage being caused to the system now will be irreparable and threatens an irreversible decline in the quality of justice in England and Wales.

Raymond Shaw, London W1