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.
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”.
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.”
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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’ feesin 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.
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.