Criminal lawyers make a stand against legal aid reforms

Solicitors and barristers up and down the country are coming together and threatening strike action over the Government’s proposed reforms to the legal aid system in England and Wales.

Approximately 80 lawyers in Devon and Cornwall have become the latest legal professionals to make a stand against the proposals that would see criminal lawyers having to compete for a contract in order to be allowed to take on legal aid cases.

Miss Bentley, a solicitor from Exeter, said this kind of competitive bidding, and the fact that lawyers will have to charge up to 17.5% less for any work they do receive, will lead to local firms suffering financially. She said this will result in access to justice suffering, as criminal lawyers will have less incentive to take on legal aid cases. In addition, the changes could see defendants lose the right to choose their own legal representation.

An online petition set up by Miss Bentley to stop the Ministry of Justice from implementing the reforms has already gained more than 38,000 signatures.

The lawyers in Devon and Cornwall have followed in the footsteps of the Wales and Chester Circuit of Barristers, which last month voted unanimously to refuse to sign up to a new system of regulation.

In addition, barristers from the Northern circuit staged an all-day protest meeting on 22 April 2013 in Manchester. A spokesperson said the Government’s reforms “posed a threat to the future of the profession of criminal barrister.”

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the proposed reforms will save £2bn a year and that “we cannot close our eyes to the fact legal aid is still costing too much.”

Much of the discussion about the reforms to legal aid has focused on the potentially catastrophic effect they could have on society and the justice system. However, the action taken by the lawyers in Devon, Cornwall, Wales and Manchester shows that the legal profession has much to lose as well. And if the number and quality of legal aid lawyers is reduced, it is ultimately the public who will suffer.

As Miss Bentley said, “people think they will never need a criminal defence lawyer but once this system is dismantled you will never have access to the same rights as you do now.”

A recent example which has been posted by the wife of a barrister about the importance of high quality criminal representation is this story about a father accused of molesting his son.

Now, where’s that petition?




One comment on “Criminal lawyers make a stand against legal aid reforms

  1. Hi Miriam, great post. As of my writing this, the petition has now had over 55,000 signatures which shows how much of a big issue this is for everybody.

    My firm and I have fully championed this and have written a number of articles on our blog and letters to our local MPs in a bid to get our voice heard which will hopefully go towards making some kind of difference.

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