Chronically under-funded magistrates courts
‘Most of us will hope never to set foot in one, but thousands end up appearing in court each year. What is it like in Wales’ 14 magistrates courts – and how are they working?’ asked journalist Jenny Rees for BBC News Wales. She spent a lively day with defence solicitor Katy Hanson at Aberystwyth Magistrates’ Court.
‘I think the system in all areas is chronically under-funded – but it gets to the point when you’re dealing with fewer lawyers, fewer probation officers, fewer court clerks – the system does need some help,’ Hanson said.
‘People assume if they’re wrongfully arrested, they will have a solicitor, it will all be sorted out, they will have the documents they need, there will be full disclosure. There are more and more examples coming through in the media where this hasn’t happened – or it’s happened right at the last moment. That’s a real concern that there’ll be miscarriages of justice because of the lack of investment and funding.’
Call centre collapse
‘Practitioners fear that suspects in police detention are being denied proper access to justice following reports that a call centre system for defence solicitors has gone into ‘meltdown’,’ reported the Law Society’s Gazette. Earlier in the week the Legal Aid Agency said the Defence Solicitor Contact Centre (DSCC) online portal would be ‘unavailable from the following day for up to 48 hours for “essential maintenance”. A phone number and email address were provided ‘if you need help with anything’.’
‘When they are getting through, we are hearing of delays of four or five hours between the police first call and the DSCC then contacting the solicitor,’ commented Kerry Hudson, vice president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association. ‘When they are contacting the solicitor, much of the key information is missing (including the detainee name in some cases) and the crucial DSCC reference number. Solicitors cannot get paid without obtaining this reference number within 48 hours of the event so some are refusing to attend through fear of not being remunerated. Cases are also being deployed to the wrong solicitors outside of the scheduled duty slots owing to the time delays.’
On Tuesday, the Legal Aid Agency said the Defence Solicitor Contact Centre (DSCC) online portal would be unavailable from the following day for up to 48 hours for ‘essential maintenance’. A phone number and email address were provided ‘if you need help with anything’.
Our Criminal Law Committee: “The Defence Solicitor Call Centre system has collapsed, defendants likely to go unrepresented in police station in interim, issue taken up with LAA but no response yet, this is driving a coach and horses through defendants’ rights” https://t.co/6yHPdxLg07
— The Law Society (@TheLawSociety) August 28, 2019
Carl Beech and legal aid
The ‘VIP paedophile ring fantasist’ received almost £200,000 in legal aid, reported the Daily Telegraph. Carl Beech was found guilty of 12 charges of perverting the course of justice and one of fraud at Newcastle Crown Court last month and was jailed for 18 years. ‘However, it can now be reported that the fantasist has been granted almost £180,000 in legal aid,’ the paper said. It was revealed that Beech was granted £178,479 for barrister fees during his Newcastle Crown Court trial, £1,400 in legal aid ‘solely for legal representation at a police station’ including £470 in solicitor’s fees for a police interview ‘where Beech – who is a “committed and manipulative paedophile” – blamed his own son for downloading indecent images’.
Legal aid ensures fair trials for the accused and justice for victims of crime. Without legal aid, this man’s victims would have been cross-examined by him in person, greatly increasing their agony and the length of trial. Legal aid has spared them and saved the taxpayer £000s. https://t.co/fRFQy2pHB0
— The Secret Barrister (@BarristerSecret) August 26, 2019
Justice First Fellowship news
There are 18 trainee solicitor posts being offered through the Legal Education Foundation’s Justice First Fellowship scheme this year. ‘As we enter the sixth year of the scheme, we are delighted that this is our biggest solicitor recruitment round yet, commented TLEF’s chief exec Matthew Smerdon. ‘The calibre of candidates has been consistently high in previous years, and we are looking forward to an equally outstanding intake this year.’
The 2019 host organisations are Brighton Housing Trust; Castlemilk Law and Money Advice Centre; Clan Childlaw; Community Law Partnership; Greater Manchester Law Centre; Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre; Harrow Law Centre; Howard League for Penal Reform; Just for Kids Law; Law Centre (Northern Ireland); Legal Advice Centre (University House); Matthew Gold & Co; Norfolk Community Law Service; North East Law Centre; Shelter; Southwark Law Centre; Speakeasy Law Centre; Tower Hamlets Law Centre.
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