Legal Aid Crisis – Where We Stand
Our ‘Access to Justice’ campaign launched in the House of Commons in 2013 marked the beginning of an active campaign on behalf of our members to engage with the government and represent those most adversely affected by proposals to change the way in which publicly funded criminal legal aid would be delivered and funded.
Through our committee members we have liaised with the Bar Council, the Law Society, the CLSA and the LCCSA along with Circuit Leaders in an effort to bring to the attention of the public and government the impact of two tier contracting and reduced fees upon the diversity of the professions.
Those who choose to practice in legally aided work exist as an essential safeguard for every British citizen and it is the considered view of SAL that these proposals will reduce quality thereby failing to perform its vital part in the checks and balances required for any country which has at its heart, the rule of law.
In addition, the proposals will deter those from underprivileged backgrounds from taking up such vital work, undermine efforts to increase faith in BME communities in the criminal justice system, leading to racial tensions and as the diversity of the professions diminishes, so too will our ability to secure a diverse judiciary. It is a fact that BME solicitors tend to practice in smaller firms, consisting of five partners or less. It is these firms that the current proposals seek to destroy.
Sadly, our calls for dialogue have fallen upon deaf ears and our calls for an impact assessment have met with silence.
In the wake of the elections we hear that the former Lord Chancellor is now to be replaced by Michael Gove MP with whom we are willing and ready to engage. Our doors remain open but our calls for proper consideration of the social impact of the proposals must be heard.
In the event of a failure by the new government to heed the validly held concerns expressed by experts in the field, the Criminal Bar Association has undertaken a ballot of its members in respect of direct action. The Society of Asian Lawyers recognizes that due to contractual terms this is a measure difficult for solicitors to co-ordinate. Following consideration, in the event of this government pressing ahead with the proposed two tier contracts and cuts in fees, the committee takes the view that direct action is the only option and hence supports such a course.
Please rest assured that we will continue to serve the interests of our members and seek to protect the inherent good that comes of a diverse pool of lawyers who are able and willing to serve the communities in which they are based.