Why I will be demonstrating outside parliament tomorrow to stop the dismantling of our revered criminal justice system

21 May 2013 at 17:22

Tomorrow I am going to Westminster. Not as the victor of a great by election victory. Nor to have a quiet lunch with my friends.

But to demonstrate against the government. My government, whose Prime Minister I support and count as a friend.

This is not against the EU. This is not against same sex marriage. This is about something far more important. The dismantling of our system of justice and access to a fair trial.

Our rule of law is under threat .

I know I have written about this before, but this is the background

It is not often that I am incandescent with rage, but yesterday’s interview with Justice Secretary Chris Grayling in the Law Society Gazette about his legal aid reforms required me to lay down in a darkened room for half an hour before writing this.

Let me just quickly remind you what he intends to do.

Of the 1,600 firms of solicitors only 400 will be left after Price Competitive Tendering hands it over to Stobbards, G4s and Serco and anybody else who can do law on the cheap. Whatever happens, those tendering will have to cut costs by 17.5%. This is on top of a legal aid budget that has shrunk by one third since 2006/7 and advocacy fees cut between 36 to 46% ( depending on the type of case) over the same period. Quality won’t just suffer. It will disappear.

A tier of bureaucracy will decide which solicitor someone charged with a criminal offence may have to represent them. There will be no choice.

There will be a financial incentive for lawyers to advise their clients to plead guilty. This will lead to the courts clogged with appeals due to miscarriages of justice.

This is what Grayling said in his interview parts of which were reproduced in yesterday’s TIMES. My comments are in italics.

The legal reforms will go ahead and denounced critics who warn that price will prevail over quality.
So much for consultation. Quality will be extinct simply because no reputable solicitors can possibly compete for these franchises. Sweatshop lawyers can. As choice has been squeezed out of the system there will be no incentive for the new breed of lawyer to do a quality job.

He defended the abolition of the defendant’s right of a choice of lawyer saying people were not up to making a selection.“I do not believe that most people who find themselves in the criminal justice system are great connoisseurs of legal skills………often come from the the most difficult and challenged backgrounds.”
This is a government who believes in choice in health and in education. Why should people not have the right to quality and experienced representation in court? Grayling supports a lack of choice because people are either too dishonest or stupid.

Too thick to pick.

So what happens when a policeman, a nurse or any of middle England gets accused of a serious offence? They will be denied access to justice and a fair trial. Even the most wicked deserve a fair trial and proper representation.

What happens to those specialist firms and barristers who are experienced in serious frauds, murders rapes and importation of drugs?

Thrown to the wall.

Expertise will count for nothing. Yet reputation and competence have been the drivers of quality. If you’re no good you starve. What incentive will there be do do a quality job? Even in its consultation document the MOJ concedes that ’ the highest that can be aspired to is an “acceptable level of representation”.

Acceptable to whom?

On Saturday I attended a packed meeting of the South Eastern Circuit at Inner Temple. There were CCTV relays for the many who could not get tickets. One thing was very clear, barristers, solicitors and the judiciary are united and unflinching in our opposition to the dismantling of our revered system of justice. And this is what the country and Parliament are sleep walking into.

I would die at the barricades rather than let this happen.

Britain wake up.