Monday October 18 2010 THE TIMES
Decline in access to criminal justice
Sir, Robin de Wilde’s concern about cuts affecting civil legal aid (letter, Oct 15) only covers part of a very serious problem. Legal aid funding has been slashed so that whole counties no longer have solicitors outside the cities taking criminal cases; franchises for criminal legal aid work will be reduced from hundreds to tens in large areas; and the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in more areas will have to travel farther to fewer magistrates courts to seek or receive justice. Is not access to criminal justice being hacked away?
And what of the quality of criminal justice once accessed? If, now with total incomes of only £25-£75 a day, half the self-employed criminal bar are unable to make a living, and fees are to be further slashed by 15 per cent, will they not be forced to take full-time employment with government prosecuting departments, such as the Crown Prosecution Service, or with “fee earning” solicitors’ firms (and the professions become fused)? What then will happen to the quality of specialist independent advocacy, of which this country has always been rightly so proud? Will this Government wake up to the fact that at a tiny fraction of the cost of other state welfare services, we have been getting criminal justice on the cheap? Although financial crises. and governments may come and go, the need for our society to be able to access decent criminal justice will always be with us. Once destroyed it will not so easily ever be rebuilt.
SIR IVAN LAWRENCE, QC