Legal Aid

Legal aid test means chaos – Letter from Practitioner

PUBLISHED November 22, 2006

Sir, John Bunting (letter, Nov 20) draws attention to the cost of legal aid means-testing. It also undermines the government?s commitment to speedy justice.
Last week I had a call from a client at court charged with an offence serious enough to justify legal aid. Under the previous system I would have gone to court and lodged a simple form which the court clerk would have dealt with on the spot; the prosecutor would have handed me disclosure and my client would have entered his plea.  
Now he has to complete two forms totalling 21 pages. My court will not now provide the forms, so he asks the court to adjourn his case and I post them to his home address. He completes them and, when he has collected the documents to prove his income, tax and rent, he posts the forms back to me for checking. I then post them to the court, which takes between two and five days to process them.

Assuming all is in order, the court then writes back to me confirming that legal aid is granted. I can then write to the CPS asking them for disclosure. When it is received I write to my client with an appointment to come in and discuss the matter. Result: three weeks? delay and considerable extra work for everyone involved.

Penrith, Cumbria