Yesterday saw Criminal Legal Aid lawyers and barristers all over the country walk out of Court or staying away in a protest over the proposed legal aid cuts to be implemented in April 2014. The cuts will see an even bigger limitation on the work which may be undertaken by Criminal Solicitors and Barristers and will include a 30% cut in fees. Though we might not like the thought, this issue could someday have a deep impact on us as individuals, as group member Emily explains…
Let’s start with the figures. A solicitor can claim £52 an hour, up to a total of £200, for visiting someone being held at a police station. It doesn’t matter what the alleged offence is, but it certainly includes arrests at demonstrations – and your right to go on protesting. That doesn’t mean they’re paid £52 an hour – the fees claimed by solicitors must cover the cost of their staff, the building you see them in to go over your statement, view CCTV evidence of the scene or to drop off your charge sheet to make sure you won’t be in court on your own.
But they can only claim £200 for the whole visit – less than four hours of costs. Anyone who has experience of being held in a police cell knows 4 hours is nothing. This can cause one of two things to happen: a good lawyer who is dedicated to representing the just will stay and take the hit, the other kind will leave you – it’s just not worth it.
Cutting this by 30% means the fixed fee will be £140 meaning solicitors will need to see 30% more people to make the same amount of money. Having worked with both criminal and civil legal aid I know it currently takes about 40 live case files at any one time to keep a lawyer going. Increase this by 30%, and your legal aid lawyer will be seeing 52 clients – this is hardly going to improve the service they can provide you.
Looking to America for an equivalence where they have run down their legal aid system to the bear bones, we see only lawyers who are unable to work in any private firm taking up legal aid work. This leaves the poor without access to the best legal minds, just the lawyers no one else wants.
Fortunately there is a band of excellent legal aid lawyers in this country, they stand together despite the erosion of our judicial system by hiked court fees, reduction of fees and demonization in the press. I have had the great pleasure to work with a good many of these lawyers and barristers within my own experience and they are among the best legal minds this country has to offer. Sad to say I have not been in a position to support them as the Civil side, where I currently work, appear to have given up already.
It takes approximately 6 years to qualify as a solicitor in this country almost as long as a doctor. While our legal aid barristers and lawyers do not hold your heart in their hands they hold your liberty, your right to a fair and just trial, your right to raise your own children, to be protected by law, even when your views are at odds with the government, and the very democracy we live under and should hold dear.
Don’t let our judicial system fade into the night: Without it we have nothing.