Humberside criminal justice system on verge of collapse, Channel 4 News report

There has been a rise in court cases without legal representation due to cuts to legal aid, according to a Channel 4 News report tonight in what experts see as the criminal justice system “on the verge of collapse.”

The report isn’t available on the site just yet but it appears that the channel has seen exclusive documents detailing a lack of legal representation in the Humberside region which experts say acts as a blueprint for the rest of the country.

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Home Affairs correspondent Simon Israel draws on one case of a octogenarian deaf man charged with attempted murder whose case continues to be delayed because he has no legal representation.  The man, who has apparently had some 19 hearings so far, is just one example of mounting costs due to delays in the justice system, raising questions among experts as to how much the cuts to legal aid will really save.

Last week, Family Law Week published a piece online about the rise in litigants in person, citing judges’ concerns that legal representatives were “a rarity” in private law children cases.

Tony Roe, principal of Tony Roe Solicitors, solicitor & family law arbitrator, told the website:

“This evidence from judges shows a large increase in the number of cases where one or both parties do not have legal representation, especially private law family litigation. This contradicts Ministry of Justice claims that the latest figures demonstrate family court performance is being maintained.

“The Judiciary’s perception is that cases which might have settled are now often fully contested by litigants in person, requiring significantly more judicial involvement, causing delays. Increased delay in the family courts will inevitably lead to practitioners advising their clients to opt for family arbitration to achieve a speedier resolution, not to mention a confidential and flexible one.”

 

 

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A day in the life of: a criminal solicitor

Matthew Swash is a criminal solicitor with OBW Perera. This article forms part of our series “A Day in the Life Of”.  If you would like to share your experiences, please get in touch via email legalaidwatch1@gmail.com or via Twitter @legal_aid_watch

 

Matthew Swash

Matthew Swash, criminal solicitor

“It is 6.00 am and my two year old is shouting to open his gate so he can get up.
Seven year old still fast asleep.

Go downstairs, iron my shirt for work and my seven year old’s uniform for school.
Put the kettle on for a strong coffee.

I got in this morning at 3.00am having been to a police station 18 miles
from my home, representing a female for criminal damage to a camera.  Continue reading

Background: Legal Aid- where does the money go?

In the year 2012-13, the government spent £1.9billion on legal assistance. The government has stated that this contributes to the UK having one of the most expensive legal systems in the world.

When we think of justice, it may conjure images of burglars or murderers in the dock. However, the legal systems works to resolve a wide range of civil and legal disputes

According to Ministry of Justice figures, there were 2.2 million cases of legal aid assistance in 2012/13. Over 1,358,000 of those were criminal cases, costing roughly £1billion in legal aid. The other 925,000 cases were civil disputes which used around £900million in funding.

Number of cases receiving legal aid in the criminal and civil justice systems over the past five years.

Number of cases receiving legal aid in the criminal and civil justice systems over the past five years.

Continue reading

Sundeep Bhatia: legal aid changes could set back ethnic minority solicitors for a generation

As former Chairman of the Society of Asian Lawyers Sundeep Bhatia leaves its committee, he highlights the grave new threat to equality in the profession.

Sundeep Bhatia, solicitor & former Chairman of the Society of Asian Lawyers

Sundeep Bhatia  fears BAME law firms are under threat. Photo: Sundeep Bhatia

Law firms with ethnic minority owners provide a valuable service to local communities, and help to cultivate diversity within the legal profession. For me it was a small Asian firm, Gupta and Partners in Wealdstone, Harrow, which gave me my big break when I started out as a solicitor.

I ran my own criminal defence firm from 1999 to 2006, and in turn gave opportunities to the next generation of BAME criminal defence lawyers. Most of those who applied were from BAME backgrounds; Indian, Pakistani, Middle Eastern and Afro-Caribbean solicitors all worked at my firm. This is one of the reasons why I am passionate about the continued existence of such firms, but under the legal aid reforms it is likely some will now wither on the vine. Continue reading

The Wall Street Journal and Legal Aid Agency statistics

Legal Aid Watch welcomes this contribution from Tim Thomas, a direct access barrier specialising in Commercial Criminal Fraud at 1 Pump Court.

You can read Tim’s article “How the Government should respond to the Operation Cotton judgment – from a barrister who returned one of the briefs” here.

Image courtesy of Tim Thomas

Image courtesy of Tim Thomas

The Wall Street Journal and Legal Aid Agency statistics

Gratifying as it was that the Wall Street Journal chose to publish an article about the Operation Cotton ruling yesterday there are a number of statements in it that were incorrect.

Firstly to describe VHCCs [Very High Cost Cases] as consuming a ‘large chunk of the MOJ’s’ annual £2bn Legal Aid Budget’ is nonsense. If one examines the Legal Aid Agency statistics for 2012/2013 – the most up to date there are – figures on page nine show that VHCCs cost £67.6m in 2012-13, having fallen 26% from the year before.

Even at the height of 2007/8 they were only costing £124m and that was largely down to the fact that many more cases were contracted (until 2011/12 cases had to have a minimum of a 40 day trial estimate, after that it was 60 days – thus less cases are now being contracted – which explains the fall in cost).

The MoJ’s suggestion that the 30% cut will save tens of millions of £s is patently rubbish. The 30% cut on £67.6m saves them £19m. The Government found £200m for pot hole repair in the March 2014 budget but is prepared to undermine the prosecution of Serious Fraud cases;  letting down alleged victims and defendants, as well damaging the limited credibility of the FCA; for a saving of £19m….

 

 

Law Centre Update

Many organisations have warned of the severe impact that cuts to legal aid will have on access to justice.

The Law Centres Network supports advice centres across the UK which work with some of the most vulnerable people in society. They have given us an update on their work, which suggests that services have been hit by funding cuts from multiple sources. However, it also demonstrates a resilience and indicates that some services are innovating under pressure to find alternate models to provide assistance. Explore the figures here:

Law Centre Update

Law Centre Update

Have you sought help or volunteered at a Law Centre? Get in touch with Legal Aid Watch and let us know why these services are so vital for communities across the UK.

Richard Moran (@RichardMMoran)