Ministers ‘out of touch with voters’ on legal aid

Seven out of 10 people (71%) expressed concern that cuts to legal aid could lead to innocent people being convicted of crimes they did not commit. The poll, published today, reckoned that two-thirds (67%) of the British public agreed that legal aid was ‘a price worth paying for living in a fair society’ – and three-quarters thought that it would be the poorest who would be hit hardest by the proposed changes.

‘Successive governments have failed in their efforts to undermine public confidence in legal aid. In fact, most people think it is a good investment in a fair society,’ said Maura McGowan QC, chairman of the Bar. ‘This poll provides the evidence which the Government has failed to gather. The public hugely values our legal aid system and it is concerned about the consequences of the Government’s proposals. The Ministry of Justice should listen to what people are saying and the strong messages delivered by this poll. The public thinks a properly funded legal aid system is a price worth paying for living in a fair society; this is not just the view of groups of lawyers.’

McGowan accused ministers of relying upon ‘lazy stereotypes’ of the justice system when ‘formulating these proposals, but it is desperately out of touch with voters. People do not want to see a further reduction of their defence against big government.’ ‘We have a justice system and legal professionals who make a huge and varied contribution to our society,’ she said. ‘The British public recognises that and so do people all over the world. It is not too late for the Government to realise that also.’

The survey is published the day before the Justice for Sale rally – see HERE – and according to the Bar Council counters Government’s claims that the legal aid system has lost credibility with the public.

According to the survey:

  •  Eight out of ten (83%) of the British public believe that people accused of a crime should be treated as innocent until proven guilty, only a small minority (6%) disagree
  • Seven in ten (71%) people are worried that innocent people could be convicted of crimes they did not commit if they are forced to use the cheapest defence lawyer available
  • Three-quarters (75%) of the public say that it will be the poorest members of society who will be most affected if the Government makes cuts to legal aid
  • Two-thirds (68%) also agree that at less than 0.5% of annual Government spending, legal aid is a worthwhile investment in our basic freedoms, and
  • More than half of British adults (53%) agree that our justice system is respected by people around the world because of the quality of our barristers.

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