For those of you who do not already know, I am quite a busy woman. I work part time, study part time, I’m a mum and a housewife. I worked as a legal secretary for nearly 10 years, but the crime bug caught me 2 years ago and I decided to start studying law whilst working, and I have been very lucky in obtaining a caseworker role at a leading criminal law firm, Kent Defence.
I want to make a difference, and help those who need it the most.
In my experience working in a mostly legal aid based criminal law firm, I have met some really desperate people who are in need of help – and not just with their legal problem. Most people I deal with have mental health problems, housing issues, are unemployed, and have drug and alcohol problems. Some people have very sad stories.
I have also dealt with people who have been arrested for the first time. Some of these people think that they would have never been involved with the police, but what people need to realise is that ANYONE can get arrested. Most people know someone who has been involved in the law, whether it be a scuffle on a Friday or Saturday night that got out of hand, a friend of yours who was caught with some weed on them, or even a fatal, yet accidental, road traffic accident.
If someone is arrested, the first and best thing to do is ask for a solicitor. It is free, and completely independent from the police. Why wouldn’t you? Some people think that not having a solicitor will get them out of the police station quicker – this is simply not true. For example, Kent Defence have representatives all over the county and, as soon as the police tell us that they are ready, we would be at the station in no time at all.
However, as most readers will know, the Ministry of Justice have recently released a consultation paper, which gives proposals to cut criminal legal aid.
The Ministry of Justice intend to reduce the amount of criminal contracts they award, which means that some law firms will go out of business. Those law firms who are successful in obtaining a contract, I suspect, will be overloaded with the amount of work they are allocated. There will be a smaller amount of law firms covering the same amount of work.
Without going into too much detail, I have two main areas of concern:
CHOICE OF SOLICITOR
The law firms that are still in existence, will be given an equal share of criminal legal aid work – which effectively means that if you are arrested, you will be allocated a solicitor. You will not be able to ask for the solicitor that you have been dealing with, that knows you, your family and your problems.
My concern is not only with a defendant who would lose trust in lawyers and the profession and the lack of client, but for costs. Having a solicitor allocated to you is counter-productive. Each case for each client would be billed separately. Currently if a solicitor deals with related offences, for example, if a defendant commits thefts on the bounce, then only one bill is submitted. This will no longer happen.
QUALITY OF REPRESENTATION
The proposals also open up contracts to ABS’s – this may mean that Tesco, Co-op, Stobart and other businesses may employ a paralegal or police station representative. Although these paralegals may be trained, they would not have the extensive training, experience and quality of a solicitor who has been practicing for years.
Another proposal is that a solicitor would receive a higher fee if a defendant pleads guilty. It worries me to think of a vulnerable person in custody who has a stranger turn up to represent them who is underpaid, overworked and would really like a quick admission, because it is 3 a.m. and they have been up all night representing others at the police station, and they want to go back to bed.
Despite these proposals, I will continue my studies. I want to qualify as a criminal defence lawyer, and have the determination to do so, whatever the government decide to cut back on. Nothing can stop me now.
I urge you to sign this e-petition to let the government know that they cannot take away our rights for representation by the solicitor of choice – http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628
Kent Defence are now on Twitter – We hope to keep you up to date on the legal aid in the coming months. You can follow us here http://www.twitter.com/kentdefence or check our website http://www.kentdefence.co.uk/
Thank you for reading.