As readers may be aware the Ministry of Justice for England and Wales has proposed radical and far-reaching changes to the operation of legal aid in that jurisdiction. HRinI has hosted a blog on the proposals by Lucy Welsh. The very short (a mere six weeks, including two bank holidays) consultation period for the proposals closed on June 4th. The proposals have met with vociferous opposition from defence barristers and solicitors as well as from Crown Court judges. The proposals have also inspired protests by lawyers and human rights groups (and see here).
On June 4th a series of highly critical submissions to the MoJ consultation were released. This post highlights two submissions: that of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law and that of members of Kent Law School.
The Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law has said the plans would result in the “absurd prospect” of repeat offenders being represented by different law firms, and reduce legal advice to “the status of a commodity”. The Centre’s submission is here. The submission is critical of the paucity of evidence underlying the proposals. Of particular interest is the Centre’s comparative analysis of judicial review applications that are legally aided and those that are not legally aided. The Centre’s breakdown of the evidence suggests that legally aided judicial review applications are handled far more cautiously by lawyers than non-legally aided applications, with a much smaller proportion of applications seeking permission to go to a full hearing. Moreover, where permission is sought, a legally aided application is five times more likely to receive permission to go to a hearing than an application which is not legally aided.
Concerns about the proposals have also compelled several members of Kent Law School to submit a detailed response to the Transforming Legal Aid consultation paper. The response takes the view that the government proposals would significantly undermine the right to representation for vast numbers of people facing the power of state led (and funded) prosecutions. It argues that the proposals appear to be based on either flawed or non-existent evidence, and that the damage which could result from the proposed reform could be extremely far reaching – threatening the credibility of the criminal justice system at best, and leading to its collapse at worst. The response also sets out concerns about the ability of vulnerable people to challenge the actions of state authorities and raise important legal arguments in numerous circumstances, and concerns about the draconian proposals in relation to criminal defence services, which, it is argued, have the capacity to undermine a defendant’s ability to play an effective role in the proceedings and reduce the quality of service provision.