This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Cheap justice?

Some radical reforms are being planned to the criminal justice and legal aid systems. You can read and respond to the green paper here:

Transforming Legal Aid: Delivering a more credible and efficient system

In essence these proposals will mean:
  • Reducing the eligibility for legal aid
  • Introducing competition into the 'criminal legal aid market'
  • Changing and reducing the fee structure for Crown Court legal aid
  • Changing and reducing the fee structure for civil legal aid
  • Changing and reducing the fee structure for experts used in civil, family and criminal proceedings
On first sight, many people will cheer these reforms as they remember on all those headlines about fat cat barristers taking fees up to the point of finally submitting a guilty plea and prisoners milking the system to take HM Prison Service to court over the temperature of the food in the canteen... (etc.)

But, as always, the story is not so simple. Read here, for example, my colleague (and former Labour PCC candidate for Thames Valley) Tim Starkey, writing about some of these 'reforms':

From justice to McJustice

In it he explains some of the possible dire consequences of these plans. Outsourcing legal aid contracts may well lead to a race to the bottom where defendants find themselves unable to get adequate support from their legal team as budgets are shaved, expert witnesses become less available and so forth. (Do please read the article.)

It is also possible that because of the way in which the contracts will be let, that police services will have less choice & flexibility when it comes to processing people through a custody suite and investigation (where legal limits apply to time scales, as is well known). In other words what might seem 'cheaper' (or better value for money) in terms of legal aid might end up costing far more in failed investigations, staff required to manage coffenders and perhaps later litigation for improperly pursued convictions. In the criminal justice system, things have a habit of all connecting and a saving here often leads to large cost over there... (And we all know how successful the outsourcing of translation services were...!)

I am no expert and my involvement in the criminal justice system at this operational level is minimal . However, I am very worried that these proposals will mean less justice for some very vulnerable people and in the end, the taxpayer will not really benefit even financially. (When these contracts are let, will extra margins be taken to manage to greater risks?)

So if you are worried too, and especially if you have more contact with these matters that I do, please read Tim's blog, and read the green paper and respond. You may also wish to sign a petition that says "the MOJ should not proceed with their plans to reduce access to justice by depriving citizens of legal aid or the right to representation by the Solicitor of their choice" available here.

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