Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid: Call for Evidence ends on 07.05.21.

For many years now, Criminal Legal Aid lawyers have made no secret of the lack of funding and remuneration they receive representing clients prosecuted for criminal offences. In recent times many firms have closed their criminal departments as it is no longer financially feasible to continue.

The very overriding objectives those who work in the Criminal Justice System are asked to uphold daily are undermined by the Government’s continuous refusal to invest in a system which was once the envy of the world.

Disclosure is always a rife issue in litigation and when coupled with funding issues it is a recipe for disaster. For example, the CPS often have disputes with Defence practitioners over disclosure issues, which can result in delays of trial readiness and in some cases trials collapsing due to late disclosure, which could have been resolved much earlier on. At the end of the case the same issues then impact on the billing of the matter as practitioners are penalised for evidence not being served under a letter, listed on an exhibits list or on a NAE, despite it not being within their control or area of responsibility. The Courts prefer not to get involved in such issues to assist which makes matters even more difficult for practitioners. Practitioners should not be penalised for acting in the interests of justice and ‘getting on with it’ as the Court requires as opposed to stalling a trial until the administrative issues pertaining to disclosure are resolved.

Only those who can afford to go into Criminal Law because they are passionate or those who have no choice as they cannot get into other areas of law are currently being attracted to the profession. Intelligent and high calibre persons from deprived socio-economic backgrounds and/or under represented ethnic and gender backgrounds are less likely to enter the profession. The fact that there is a lack of persons from certain ethnic, gender or socio-economic backgrounds is a concern for the end user as they will find it difficult to instruct a practitioner who cannot relate to them, understand them and/or looks like them, which breaks down the trust and confidence of end users from various ethnic, gender and socio-economic backgrounds in the profession, leading to an adverse effect on the ability for such persons ability to access justice.

The refusal to invest in criminal legal aid wreaks havoc with the effective administration of justice. It impacts on those who work within the system but more importantly on victims of crime and those accused of crime.

This refusal to invest also wreaks havoc with a firm’s ability to plan ahead and to employ and train future lawyers. It is widely recognised that lawyers of the future do not consider a career in criminal law as financially viable. If firms do not recruit or train lawyers of the future, where does that leave the effective prosecution and defence of criminal offences? Where does that leave the judiciary in 20 years time?

The current system operates on a generous amount of goodwill by parties to investigations and proceedings. Without this goodwill, the Criminal Justice System would probably come to a grinding halt.

Lack of funding today is going to impact how the Criminal Justice System operates tomorrow. It might already be too late but you have an opportunity to make a difference.

SAL calls for increased pay in hourly rates for work, in line with inflation and annual increases in line with inflation, re-instatement of the percentage cut of 8.75% across the board which was carried out in 2014 for criminal legal aid, enhanced payments for work involving those with protected characteristics that require more work. Payment of work involving the securing and considering of evidence by the Defence from their client or witnesses, as currently there is no payment facility for evidence which originates from the Defendant or his/her witnesses.

The Government / MOJ have launched a consultation looking at Criminal Legal Aid. SAL recognises a good proportion of our membership work within the Criminal Justice System. SAL urges its members to take part in the consultation and have their voices heard. In order to facilitate change we have to be actively involved in it.



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