Appeal judges have today made a ruling which paves the way for risky new on-call legal aid contracts in police stations and magistrates’ courts.
If forced through emergency legal advice contracts in police stations and magistrates’ courts will be slashed from 1600 to just 527. The London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association predicts that two thirds of criminal legal aid firms will go out of business, leaving dangerous legal advice deserts in worst affected areas, such as London. Widespread concerns have been raised about access to justice, a rise in unrepresented defendants and miscarriages of justice. All this just weeks before a general election.
The appeal was brought by practitioner groups the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association and the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association as well as the Law Society, in response to a high court ruling in February this year.
Commenting on today’s ruling Jonathan Black, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association said,
'We’re gutted. It’s another terrible blow for our criminal justice system and access to justice. Whilst the appeal court has found the devastating carve-up of solicitor representation is technically legal, we and many others believe it’s immoral. We’ll do everything we can to continue the fight.
We’re staring into an abyss of rough justice. The message sent by these swingeing ideological cuts and policies, coming on top of many other draconian measures, are simple. Don’t be poor, don’t be a victim of domestic abuse and don’t be accused of a crime. Because woe betide you, the state isn’t interested in providing you with the protection of the law. Ministerial assurances that legal aid will be there for anyone who needs it, ring hollow. Unrepresented defendants will clog up our criminal courts, thousands of legal aid solicitors will lose their jobs, leaving legal advice deserts in parts of the country. Unfortunately, miscarriages of justice are an inevitable consequence of these disastrous contracts.
It’s vital that legal aid becomes an election issue, holding politicians from every party to account. We can’t stress enough that additional cuts in an already stretched system aren’t necessary and we urge the public to demand a re-think. As for our own legal position, we’re taking stock and considering our next steps. We have incredible support from the profession and justice campaigners and we have contingency plans. Watch this space.'