This is a Guest Blog Post From Charles Falk. Just another Barrister, not a Fat Cat.
It speaks for itself, as do so many others, but here is Charlie’s introduction:
“I am not very good at blogging (We disagree) but I have prepared a short, hopefully easy to read guide to the government’s proposed legal aid reforms, designed to be read by non-lawyers.
It’s original purpose was for sending to friends of my parents and wider circle to get more signatures on the petition. If it is of any interest to anyone or if anyone would like to send it around, please feel free”
Right. This is the situation:
The Government’s Plans
1) The government intend to outsource the provision of Legal Services to the lowest bidders. At the moment it is to be done without a debate in Parliament by the single stroke of a pen signing a Statutory Instrument.
2) There are currently 1,600 firms of Criminal Legal Aid Solicitors in the country but the government will have only 400 contracts in a total of 38 areas in the country. A single company can only have 1 contract per area but there is nothing to stop them bidding for contracts in all 38 areas. The reality is that due to economies of scale, firms of Solicitors will not be able to bid and that contracts will be awarded to these large business structures like Eddie Stobart (the truckers, I kid you not), G4S (who mucked up the Olympics), Serco and Capita (who are currently mucking up the Interpreter contract)
3) The only way that the Government can ensure that these firms make a profit is by guaranteeing them clients. Hence the central proposition that arrested people will no longer be able to choose their own representative but will be allocated one of the big companies on a rota basis.
4) Not only that, the 2nd worst thing is that the Government have decided that they will pay the same fee for a case whether a client pleads guilty or has a 3 day trial. It is obvious that a lot less work goes into a guilty plea than preparing a case for trial, i.e interviewing witnesses, instructing experts, preparing cross-examination and a speech to a jury
Why we think that this is appalling
1) There will be no incentive to provide a good service as it doesn’t matter if the client doesn’t like you as he can’t sack you, and next time he will be allocated a different firm anyway and you are always guaranteed work due to the rota system
2) Not only that but due to the fact that there is no money in running trials, there is now a built in conflict between the client and the service provider (as the government wants to re-label us) in that the only way that the provider will make any money is by forcing people to plead guilty.
3) The British Justice System is seen to be the best but this is a race to the bottom as far as quality is concerned
5) A minimum of 1,200, but probably many more firms of Solicitors will instantly collapse if they are not awarded a contract that they cannot afford to bid for
4) This will also collapse the Independent Criminal Bar overnight as the rates of pay in each case will be so low that these companies will not brief barristers but will keep the work “in house” to their own employed junior lawyers
5) What the public needs to understand is this. The Independent Bar prosecute as well as defend. We prosecute 70% of all cases and all of the serious sex, homicide and complex cases. If the Bar collapses, then the CPS does not have enough staff to prosecute their own cases. The chaos and fallout will be all too obvious.
6) Miscarriages of Justice will clearly happen, not only innocent people wrongly convicted, but guilty, dangerous criminals being improperly prosecuted.
7) British Judges are traditionally recruited from the Bar and Solicitors. If they are wiped out, where is the next generation of quality judiciary to come from. Lord Eddie of Stobart?
Furthermore this will all cost more money than it saves anyway
1) You only need to see the farce that is happening with the current interpreter contract with Capita not having enough interpreters working at their low rates of pay, to send to Courts. Serious Court cases are being delayed because interpreters do not turn up or cannot speak the defendant’s language. It has already cost millions in lost days and the Government was forced to step in and use tax payers’ money to pay extra wages to Capita’s employees. If they can’t manage to get an interpreter contract right, how can they possibly outsource an entire Criminal Justice System
2) The government fails to realise that good lawyers are quite happy to advise defendants to plead guilty should the evidence merit it. My clients are more likely to accept unpalatable advice from me because we have relationships built on trust over time. They are hardly likely to accept advice from a lawyer foisted upon them who has a financial incentive to force a plea out of them. Result will be more trials rather than less.
3) The cost of putting right miscarriages of Justice, including compensation in the Court of Appeal is astronomical
4) it is very clear that in pushing these proposals through, the government will be creating near monopolies. These contracts are due to last 3 years. Each of these large companies can afford to initially run these contracts as loss leaders and bid extremely low in order to wipe out all the firms of Solicitors. Once they are gone, they’re gone. In 3 years time when these contracts are to be renewed, these companies will be free to charge whatever they want and practically hold the government to ransom
I firmly believe that if these proposals go through then a cornerstone of our democracy will be affected. Democracy relies on the checks and balances of separation of powers. One of the functions of the Judiciary and the Rule of Law is to keep government from abusing its power and vice versa. Look at what they are doing now.
I think that this is appalling and wish to stop this. Of course I have a vested interest in that this is my career, but I also think that this will be catastrophic for this country who have no idea yet that it is happening.
At the very least this should be properly debated in Parliament and that is why we should all sign the petition that merely seeks to force that debate.
The petition can be found at http://www.tinyurl.com/itsmychoice
We are currently at over 83,000 signatures but need to reach 100,000 to secure a debate. The government are now worried about it, hence have put their own misleading pre-amble on it before you get to where you can sign