As the heat turns up on the proposed legal aid cuts, solicitors from Cheshire and Wales took to BBC Wales to reach out to listeners.
Michael Gray of Gray and Co Solicitors recorded an audio diary over the course of a week to give listeners a taste of what a typical working day as a criminal legal aid solicitor is like.
The legal aid cuts, which threaten to put around 75% of criminal solicitor firms in England and Wales out of business, have been strongly contested since they were announced. Not just by solicitors themselves but by healthcare professionals, who fear mental health patients could be among one of the most likely groups to suffer from the cuts.
The full audio clip of the interview is available below.
How Price Competitive Tendering and Legal Aid Cuts Threaten the Justice System
The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, who is responsible for the consultation paper which outlines the cuts, has been scrutinised for underestimating the consequences the cuts could have on the justice system.
His idea of ‘auctioning’ off legal aid work in bulk to bigger firms for the lowest price possible has sparked concerns that the quality of representation of will fall drastically and result in an increase in the number of miscarriages of justice.
Michael Gray of Gray and Co Solicitors told Felicity Evans, “Our criminal justice system is one of the most highly regarded in the world, that’s because we have professionals who care very much about what they do, care very much about doing the best for their client, this will go if the Lord Chancellor’s plans come into fruition”.
He explained that legal aid work requires; not just the knowledge and experience, but also the dedication that solicitors currently have to be able to keep the justice system fair. In the interview, he explains that he is on-call all week and that his pager can go off at any time of the day or night. This dedication is something that law professionals fear will be lost, if Price Competitive Tendering is implemented.
Vulnerable Adults at Risk of Injustice
Many legal professionals have aired concerns that mental health patients could be hit hard by the cuts. In Grayling’s proposal, suspects will no longer be able to choose a solicitor to represent them as they will be allocated whichever firm has been awarded the contract.
For adults suffering from mental illness, trusting a new face can be incredibly difficult and if they refuse representation from a new solicitor they are will not be protected by the Justice System.
Richard Miller, Head of Legal Aid at the Law Society explained to Felicity that the cuts could also reduce the efficiency of the court structure. He warned that if a client does not trust their solicitor, they may decide to make a ‘not-guilty’ plea (in cases where the suspect is quite clearly guilty) even if advised to plead ‘guilty’. He explained this could have a detrimental effect on the courts as more cases could end up going to court than necessary.
Wales to Suffer from Courts
It is argued throughout that the Welsh should be “up in arms” as people who are to face court may not be allocated a Welsh speaking lawyer, solicitor or barrister. These proposed changes have sparked the concern that communication and help the Welsh speaking community receive will decrease in quality by a great extent.
Andrew Taylor started that “The Welsh speaking community in Wales are being short changed it is potentially unlawful and that is one of the reasons that we are saying to this government we are actively considering taking judicial review against you, so in other words the Ministry of Justice have not been just.”
Mary Hughes asked the Ministry of Justice to clarify how its proposals comply with its strategy duty to treat the English and Welsh languages equally. She also suggests that contracts should be drafted to ensure that any successful candidates are able to offer legal aid services in Welsh from the outset and of the highest quality; however, the Misery of Justice stated they were not able to comment on individual consultation submissions but any firm bidding for a contract would have to meet quality standards. It is still argued however, that the Welsh speaking communities are not being treated equally and will not be represented properly by a solicitor or lawyer who does not speak Welsh.
Lawyers from all over England and Wales are calling for members of the public to sign the petition against Price Competitive Tendering. Another 4000 signatures are required for the case to go to parliament.
The Save UK Justice petition can be found here and is anonymous to sign – http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628