JusticeWatch: Legal aid is for everyone

Struggling to cope
The quality of the CPS’s handling of disclosure remained ‘unacceptably low’ with prosecutors failing to identify when police had not disclosed all the relevant evidence in more than half of cases, as reported by the Justice Gap. The new study by HM Chief Inspector Kevin McGinty followed a damning 2017 joint inspection which found ‘a culture of defeated acceptance’ and that the prosecution failed to meet its disclosure obligations in four out of 10 cases.

The new report shows improvement but, as acknowledged by the inspectorate, from ‘a low baseline’: for example, a 28% improvement of the CPS correctly advising the police in the charging advice on reasonable lines of enquiry from 46% to 74%; as well as an increase of over 20% in the number of cases where the CPS charging advice dealt properly with disclosable and non-disclosable unused material fully meeting the required standard (from 29% to 49%). It also revealed that the  CPS improved its compliance with the requirement for the prosecutor to review the defence statement and provide comments and advice to the police from 41% of cases to 60% of cases.

‘It is in the day to day work in the Crown Court that disclosure problems arise. This work… suffers from the impact of stretched police resources and the lack of understanding of criminal justice matters by large numbers of inexperienced police officers who are only infrequently required to compile a prosecution file. The quality of case preparation, and thus the handling of disclosure, is also often undermined by under-resourced CPS staff who are struggling to cope with the sheer volume of work.’
HM Crown Prosecution Inspectorate

Not rocket science
Our courts system helps to protect our fundamental rights, we have a duty to ensure it is properly resourced and the people working in it are better supported, wrote Sir Bob Neill for www.politicshome.com. 

There was a lot of truth in the old saying that justice delayed is justice denied, the chair of the House of Commons’ justice committee began. ‘And yet, as anyone involved in the legal system will tell you, cases are currently facing delays of many months, and far too often, multiple years. In fact, go into any court today and you will find a large number of the cases listed will be in relation to allegations made in 2018. That cannot be right.’

‘This reality is made even more concerning given the number of prosecutions and penalties for crime has fallen to an all-time low – just 1.59 million in 2019, 29% less than ten years ago. So why is the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) still managing a backlog of more than 30,000 crown court cases (up 3% year-on-year) and 288,000 magistrate cases? The answer is as simple as it is common: cash, or a lack thereof.’
Sir Bob Neill

The costs for ‘righting this wrong’ were ‘minimal in the grand  scheme  of expenditure  (in fact, the Ministry of Justice’s budget currently accounts for a mere  1% of  Government spending, Sir Bob argued. ‘This isn’t rocket science, nor does it require us to reinvent the wheel. What is urgently needed is an adjustment of priorities and a rethink on how we best use the assets and resources we already have.’

Laughing in the face of justice
There was much confected outrage from a narrow section of the press over the fact that (as The Sun reported) ’LONDON Bridge terrorist Usman Khan was given more than £350,000 in legal aid to be represented for being part of a group that plotted to bomb the city’s stock exchange’. ‘The fanatic, 28, was specifically given £12,000 of taxpayers’ cash to appeal his sentence – allowing him to be free on licence from prison when he carried out the horrific attack.’

‘The Sun on Sunday can reveal that the monster was handed £341,460 for being represented at court – £217,324 for a barrister and £124,136 for a solicitor.

In 2013 the Court of Appeal controversially quashed Khan’s sentence – replacing it with a 16-year-fixed term of which half of which was to be served in prison. He was given £12,000 in legal aid to successfully appeal. He was also handed £2,100 for a judicial review.’

‘Despite the massive payouts to Khan the victims of terrorist attacks have had legal aid denied,’ the red top continued. ‘Families of the victims killed in the 2017 London Bridge attack were told it was not in the public interest for them to receive the funding.’

Mid Derbyshire Tory MP Pauline Latham was on hand to provide the outrage. ‘For him then to have all of this funded by the taxpayer is a disgrace,’ she said. ‘He was obviously laughing in the face of justice.’

You can read the brilliant Twitter takedown from Secret Barrister here. ‘Khan was not “given £350,000”. This is a lie’ SB begins. ‘That was the overall cost of legal aid in his criminal proceedings in 2012. This is like saying someone who receives a NHS heart transplant is “given” the cost of the operation.’  

Law firms were earning as little as £37.50 per hour ‘to represent people on the brink of homelessness’, reported Mondipa Fouzder for the Law Society’s Gazette. The Ministry of Justice has been consulting on proposed changes to its Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme. Responding to the consultation, the Law Society said the scheme was ‘not commercially viable because of the low fees paid to providers’.

One law centre reckoned they were earning £37.50 an hour. ‘This compares unfavourably with licensed work rates which most of this work would be carried out if not done under the [scheme],’ the Society said. ‘Government plans to close another 77 courts could also affect the scheme’s sustainability,’ the article continued. ‘The Society says providers may be deterred from applying for a contract if they think the work will be short-lived. Those providing services in courts still open may not have sufficient resources to take on work previously allocated to the closed courts.’

The Gazette also reported that Enfield-based Kent Solicitors and Tuckers completed their merger. ‘Like most owners of small firms, I had become very tired of carrying the burden of the regulatory and compliance regimes of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Legal Aid Agency and Lexcel/SQM,’ said Kent Solicitors owner Ozlem Erbil Cetin. ‘I hope that our merger with Tuckers will actually enable me to strengthen the brand of Kent Solicitors within our key areas, as I can finally focus all my attention on our client work as opposed to managing other aspects of the business.’

About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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