The Government is planning further changes and cuts to legal aid. These proposals cover all criminal legal aid litigation work (the work a solicitor would do for you if you were accused of a crime) including cases in the Crown Court and family legal aid for representation in care proceedings.
Why does it matter to me?
The full consultation document is 161 pages long, but here are the key points, why we at Canter Levin & Berg Solicitors are opposed to them and why we think you should be too;
Legally-aided criminal defendants will not be able to choose their own solicitor.
You will no longer be able to choose a lawyer who you know and trust - you will simply be assigned one. This assigned lawyer might not know any of your background or personal circumstances and having to repeat this information might mean that important details are missed, details that could have a bearing on an application for bail or your sentencing. If you're involved in more that one case, you might end up having a different lawyer for each matter, which at the very least could cause confusion and at worst could impact the eventual outcome of your case.
Only people (possibly solicitors’ firms but also potentially firms like Serco or G4S) who get a contract will be able to represent you.
These firms will only get a contract to deal with legal aid cases if they charge the lowest possible price per case. The government says it has quality controls in place, but we think that this will mean the firms that do continue to deal with legal aid work will find it hard to put in the work that might be necessary to make sure you get quality legal representation.
Your choice of who you want to represent you will be reduced.
It is proposed that the number of law firms dealing with criminal legal aid cases in each area will be greatly reduced. For example, on Merseyside there would be a reduction from 40 to 14 firms. This could lead to massive delays in solicitors attending the police station or court for example if you are in Belle Vale Police station in South Liverpool but the firm given your case is in Southport or St.Helens. It would also make it more difficult for you to drop in to see your solicitor when you want to.
Solicitors will have their fixed fee and hourly rate reduced by 10% in public law proceedings.
The government have already substantially cut the amount they pay to criminal legal aid solicitors in recent years and they are now proposing further cuts. They have presented this reduction in fees on the basis that Solicitors will be doing less work when care proceedings last no longer than 26 weeks. What they haven’t accounted for it that the time may be reducing, but the amount of work is not, in fact in some cases Solicitor and Barristers representing parents and children will have to work harder to ensure families have proper access to justice.
The real story about Legal Aid Lawyers
Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers or online about 'Fat Cat' lawyers. Legal Aid funded cases, whether they involve criminal accusations or representing vulnerable children and adults to make sure their voices are heard, can be incredibly challenging work, in these cases people's livelihoods, their safety or their freedom are at stake. Many Legal Aid workers take home less than a newly qualified police officer and the vast majority earn less than a police sergeant.
I'm concerned about these changes, what can I do?
Its not something most of us consider, but think about what might happen if you are accused of a crime and arrested. Who would you want to represent you, a highly trained professional lawyer, or someone who is only there because they made the lowest bid for your case - surely you'd want the best legal representation you could get, right? If you're concerned about the damage these changes might bring to the legal system and to your rights, then there are ways to make your voice heard. You can write to your MP and tell them you are opposed to these cuts, you can respond to the Consultation on the government's website or you can sign the petition.