Specialist criminal lawyers call for criminal legal aid parliamentary debate
Four groups of specialist criminal lawyers have called upon the Government for a full parliamentary debate on unsustainable cuts to criminal legal aid.
The joint statement from the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, the Criminal Bar Association, London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association and the Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group is a response to the Ministry of Justice paper ‘Transforming Legal Aid Consultation paper- Next steps’.
In that statement they have, on behalf of their members, expressed their united objections to the MOJ proposals and their collective dismay that the MOJ has ignored an unprecedented 16,000 responses to the ‘Transforming Legal Aid’ consultation paper. They have pointed out that the responses called upon the Government to change the course of its proposed programme for cuts to criminal defence – not to pursue the particular route now adopted by the MOJ.
The statement goes on to emphasise that, despite the dismissive approach to these concerns that the Government has taken, any cuts are unsustainable and makes it impossible for the profession to continue to provide a proper prosecutorial and defence service. They state:
“Do we have to prove this beyond doubt by vanishing because a few at the MOJ believe they know better than the unprecedented number of 16,000 expert respondents to the consultation? Who will then replace us as ‘Client choice’ is illusory if there are no defence solicitors or Counsel of quality left standing. Political pronouncements concerning the rights of victims of crime will ring hollow if there is a dearth of skilled lawyers working to bring criminals to justice.
“The proposals in addition to the cuts previously made and without regard to dramatically falling levels of expenditure and their impact upon legal aid will usher in an era when full access to justice is the preserve of the wealthy few. Rigorous adherence to the Rule of law cannot be achieved if criminal legal aid becomes the Cinderella public service. We will all be much the poorer if one of the lasting legacies of this political generation is the crippling of criminal defence and prosecution provision and the creation of widespread advice deserts.
“The right to independent legal representation pre-dates universal suffrage and has been facilitated for most by the provision of legal aid. Yet this access is about to be destroyed by the stroke of a ministerial pen for all but the wealthy. Our ideas for reform and savings having been dismissed perfunctorily by the MOJ and we wish to put these considered alternative ideas for root and branch reform to our members of Parliament who may wish defend access to justice and the public interest in the promised parliamentary debate on criminal legal aid and we hope this will take place as soon as possible. ”