Legal Aid Watch interviews: Alan Williams, solicitor advocate, on lawyers’ fees and the dangers of self-representation

Alan Williams, solicitor advocate at criminal law firm Hayes Law, spoke out against legal aid “myths” in an interview with Tom Belger at a recent protest

 

  • Fee cuts – “You wouldn’t go to a hospital consultant and say you’ve got to take a 30 per cent hit in one.”
  • Criminal v commercial law – “Criminal legal aid is not as lucrative, but it’s the most exciting and entertaining to do – as long as we’re paid a living wage.”
  • Self-representation –  “We can do a pre-trial hearing in ten minutes, whereas someone litigating in person will spend an hour missing the point.”

 

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Watch: Law Centres under pressure from legal aid cuts

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Cuts to the government’s legal aid budget have recently sparked several landmark protests by barristers. But those who use free legal advice centres because they can’t afford a lawyer are also finding the cuts tough. Justin Cash and Rachel Schraer report.

 

Watch the action from the Grayling Day protest!

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Highlights from the protest on March 7, 2014, featuring interviews with Camilla Graham Wood and Russell Fraser from Justice Alliance.

Camilla warned of the implications of legal aid cuts and government accountability: “In a democratic society, we should be able to hold these organisations to account and legal aid is a key way that people have been able to do that”.

Russell spoke of the potential miscarriages of justice that could arise: “We should as a society want to be confident when someone is sent to prison that they’re actually guilty”.

This week in legal aid:

 

Engraving of a Victorian courtroom scene © Sheffield Libraries, Archives and Information (Licensed under Creative Commons)

Engraving of a Victorian courtroom scene © Sheffield Libraries, Archives and Information (Licensed under Creative Commons)

A barrister has vowed that the Bar will fight cuts to justice, in an unusual open letter to the Lord Chancellor that has been doing the rounds on Twitter this week.

A London Underground traffic update board was snapped on November 19 at Westminster Tube station with the following message:

FAO Lord Chancellor,

Your consultation paper is a sham.

Justice is in jeopardy.

The Bar will fight for her.

Not a penny more cuts.

Regards,

A Barrister

Meanwhile, in the first of two news stories featuring the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), top UK barrister and CBA Chairman has warned that legal aid cuts could lead to murderers and rapists walking free.

“Without wishing to alarm the public, the impact of cuts will mean more cases collapse with murderers, rapists and child-sex offenders walking free.”

In an interview with the Mirror on November 17, Nigel Lithman QC said that “top lawyers would refuse to take on long, serious cases as they would not be paid enough.”

According to the Mirror, he said hourly rates would dip below the minimum wage and commercial barristers would earn in an hour what criminal barristers earn in a ­fortnight.

“The ­criminal justice system is being turned into a ­wasteland.”

What do you think? What constitutes a fair salary for legal aid lawyers? Tweet us your views, take our poll and add your comments below.

Legal Aid Watch has also been keeping a close eye on movements within the Criminal Bar as barristers voted to protest this week:

Poster from the CBA (Credit: Criminal Bar Association)

Poster from the CBA (Credit: Criminal Bar Association)

According to Legal Voice UK, the vote took place at the CBA’s national delegates’ conference in London on November 17.  The government’s proposals for legal aid include a further 17.5% cut to defence barristers’ fees in criminal legal aid cases.

Mark George QC has been quoted as saying:

“I appreciate for some of you, this may sound radical. It is radical. We are in a radical situation. It’s time to fix the bayonets because we are not going to go down without a fight.”

However, CBA Chairman Nigel Lithman QC urged for “caution” as a number of barristers at the conference reportedly asked for a strike date.

William Hogarth, credit: Creative Commons

William Hogarth, credit: Creative Commons

Meanwhile, according to the Law Society Gazette, the Law Society Council has spoken out in defense of the legal aid restructuring.

On a more technological note, a personal injury firm based in Manchester has created a smartphone application that will help with cuts to fees.  The Law Society Gazette reports that Aequitas Legal will attempt to sell the application to other firms in the hope of saving clients money through instant communication.

Similarly, Clifford Chance announced on November 15 that it will take steps to fund free legal advice.  The global firm will give £73,000 to three legal advice centres to help them continue to support vulnerable communities in the face of public funding cuts.

Finally, the Yorkshire Evening Post ran a story on November 14 on the closure of Leeds Law Centre.  Cuts to legal aid have been blamed for what has been described as a “shock move”.

The Harehills and Chapeltown Law Centre shut their doors on November 7 after more than 30 years of legal aid services.