• Sundeep Bhatia

WHY NO ONE BEMOANS THE PLIGHT OF THE CRIMINAL SOLICITOR (AND WHY THEY SHOULD)

I remember listing to BBC Radio 5 live last week and hearing a political pundit stating that ,privately, Conservative and Labour MPs ,would admit that there was less difference between their policies then they might publicly admit.

Nowhere is this more apparent then in the field of Legal Aid and,in particular,criminal Legal Aid.

All three parties are committed to the cuts which have been made to the criminal Justice System.

The reason for this is because we are an easy target. We cannot compete with the NHS and Education.

Their are no votes in maintaining the criminal Justice system.People label criminal defence lawyers as fat cats defending the hooligan who mugged granny.It suits all shades of government to propagate this fairy tale. Both Labour and Conservative have participated in the practice of publishing the top earning barristers and Law Firms in order to mislead the public.

People assume that those figures represent the average earnings of all criminal defence firms when they represent a small minority.Moreover those figures often include earnings for major cases which may have been going on for several years. It is only when people find themselves in trouble that they realise the importance of what we all do at Police Stations and Courts.

We preserve human rights and ensure equality of arms such that the individual is not crushed by the state.It is therefore important for there to be competent,expert criminal defence lawyers throughout the Justice system.Otherwise the result will be many miscarriages of Justice .

Justice then will be dependant upon whether an individual can afford to pay for a competent defence.

The two tier contracts promise the introduction of such a two tier criminal Justice system for rich and poor.

I salute the LCCSA ,CLSA and the Law Society who are judicially reviewing a Ministry of Justice who only care about savings and who are prepared to mislead the profession into believing that the two tier system is feasible as opposed to a path to destruction for any firm unlucky enough to win a Duty Solicitor contract.

The Ministry of Justice have been exposed for what they are.Their research has been exposed as flawed and inaccurate.

Moreover research supporting criticisms of the scheme were shamelessly supressed .

Let us hope that the latest Judicial Review is successful.

It is in the middle of such a bleak scenario that Sadiq Khan,the shadow Justice Secretary, has offered a few words of comfort.

The two tier scheme would be reversed under a Labour Government and the next cut of 8.75% will be reviewed.

He also appears open to looking at alternative means of saving money within the criminal Justice system as put forward by the Legal Professions.

Yet Mr Khan still states that there are too many criminal defence firms and therefore another scheme of rationalisation,(or culling)seems inevitable.

£600 million of spending cuts to Legal Aid, under the coalition,will not be reversed.

Let us not forget that Chris Grayling’s actions are the end game of a process which was begun ,under a Labour Government ,who firstly tried to impose Price Competitive Tendering ,in 2005 and who then made two further efforts to introduce PCT prior to 2010.

However Sadiq Khan’s words are the best we can hope for.

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