If you are not a lawyer, or working in any part of the criminal justice system then this blog is aimed directly at you. It’s not a political statement, it’s aim is to explain in the simplest of terms what the government are about to do to your justice system.
You will hear over the coming weeks many lawyers both Barristers and Solicitors bleating on and on about how the government are planning to change the way Legal Aid for criminal cases is funded. A great many of you, (if I’m honest, almost all of you), will at best pay a cursory glance at this news and I suspect will perhaps think something along the lines of the following;
“My friends, family and I will never be in trouble and therefore this doesn’t effect me”, or
“Criminals don’t deserve my money being spent on them”, or
“Fat Cat lawyers living in mansions are complaining because they are losing some of their income”.
I could not hold it against you if you believed any of the preceding observations. These and many more similar sentiments are exactly what your own government want you to think. They need you to believe it. If you did not, then you would know that yet again a few more of those rights that you take for granted as a fundamental part of a democratic nation are being stolen from you.
Here though are the headlines;
If you are arrested you will not have any say whatsoever in who will represent you. Think about that for a moment. In what other area of your life would you be happy with this scenario. No choice as to which plumber fixes your leak. No choice over which mechanic mends your car. No right to decide which energy supplier you contract with. Society is about choice. Even in the NHS you can chose which medical practice you register with. However, when the chips are down and your freedom, reputation and livelihood are at stake you will be assigned a lawyer based perhaps on the first letter of your surname or what day of the week it is.
The lawyer that you are assigned will be advising you having won a contract from the government to do so. The only basis upon which the provision of that contract is based is how cheaply that lawyer’s firm can provide the service. In fact the government are so unconcerned about quality that they have in their own impact assessment suggested that the new system would prevent lawyers from providing a service beyond what is considered ‘acceptable’. The equivalent might be a doctor mending your broken bone with a cast and saying to you “…now don’t touch it because it will instantly crumble and your leg will shatter but you know what, I’m saving the government a fortune”. In other words it is highly likely that the service you get will not be fit for purpose.
3. Challenging the decision of a government body
This is not new. The restriction on this right has already been eroded. You may not realise this but you can seek to challenge the decision of any public body if you believe the process by which it was reached was flawed or the conclusion is just plainly unreasonable. You do so through the process of Judicial Review. As the title suggests a Court is asked to scrutinise the decision. This is one of the ways in a democracy the government is held to account. It’s hard to over emphasise how important this mechanism is. This of course is never popular with any government. It costs them money, time and if shown to be wrong political capital. It should therefore come as no surprise that the government have decided to restrict access to Judicial Review.
The above are the main standout headings from what the government are proposing. If this short explanation got your attention then please read the following links for a far more in depth analysis.
Also please then sign this petition, http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628. What you must understand is that this really will effect you. This is stage one of a process that will be very hard to reverse. If the government succeed in pushing these proposals through, you will all be in a weaker and more difficult position when you seek to challenge them, be it when your liberty is at stake or simply when they make a decision that negatively effects you in some way.
Thank you for reading. Don’t let justice go.