Since 9 April I have read numerous articles by criminal lawyers all bemoaning the fact that the Government are proposing to change the Legal Aid system. Predominantly it seems the gripe of large firms that they will not get enough money to cover their overheads, employees of large firms obviously anxious about their jobs, and many all repeat the same thing.
The right of a client to choose their own solicitor is at the heart of the current gripe. The argument is continually put forward that clients have trust in their lawyer and therefore will take advice from them. Also the lawyer knows the client and therefore is able to deal with the client in a more expeditious manner. None of this is going to find any favour with the public and therefore this repeated message is a complete waste of time. Consider this. When a father takes a young child into hospital he is allocated a doctor and possibly, depending on the seriousness of the illness, a consultant. What choice does the father or parent have in this situation over the doctor or consultant who are provided to him free of charge by the National Health Service? The Government will continue to maintain that as all solicitors and barristers are equally competent in that they have all passed the same standard of legal training, any client can be represented by any lawyer. Therefore will the public see anything wrong with a client who predominantly does not pay for their legal representation to be given an appointed lawyer? I suspect many members of the public will see absolutely nothing wrong with this and therefore the profession’s continued gripe may not find favour.
The next problem the public will have is that they think most criminals before the Court are guilty and therefore they should plead guilty. It is a very nice legal argument and it is used very often by myself and others that every client is equally entitled to challenge the case brought against him by the State. Regrettably, if people are continually having this challenge for free, in times of austerity and cutbacks generally the public will not see much merit in the argument that people they believe to be guilty initially should have the right to challenge. Therefore again the public will support the Government’s proposed cuts.
I have recently read blog articles where members of the legal profession have professed not to enter not guilty pleas just so that there was increased revenue. If every criminal lawyer can put their hand on their heart and say this has not been done then perhaps I am missing something. Even the previous rates of pay for barristers actually did favour entering not guilty pleas and cracking them on the trial day. This was when there was a fee for a PCMH and then a fee for cracking on the day of trial which was greater than simply a PCMH fee. This was a system that was put in place by those who funded the Legal Aid budget and one that many lawyers took frequent advantage of.
The criminal justice system does work based greatly on the goodwill and hard work of many of the people involved in the system. Criminal defence has for many years simply kept the circle of the criminal justice system running smoothly to ensure that the system operates on a day-to-day basis as well as it can do.
It is time for the legal profession to fight back but not in the public’s eye saying that it wants to represent clients who want to be represented by them. This will have no merit.
It is time to fight back and stop the fact that criminal lawyers are working harder and longer for diminishing returns.
Classic example is trial over listing. It is about time when people get to Court to find that there are 15 hours of trials listed that day that as a group of lawyers representing people they should go en masse to the Court Clerk and say which trial is starting, because if that trial has a three-hour listing and your trial has a three-hour morning listing, you will be leaving at that point. Your client will have complied with his obligations under the Bail Act and you will be saying to the Court, you booked us for a three-hour morning trial, in the land of diminishing remuneration we have to book other things to do in the afternoon, and therefore simply cannot stay at Court all day waiting potentially to get a trial on or late in the afternoon being told that there is no Court time. Stand together and provide a unified front to the Court and tell them that we will not be pushed around any more.
Tell the public that most of the money spent in the criminal justice budget is wasted by huge inefficiencies in the Crown Prosecution Service who cannot get files to Court which causes delay. Blame the other parties in the process, tell them that cases get adjourned because the Prosecution provide no evidence. Get the public to realise that money spent within the Probation Service simply is not working. Money spent on rehabilitation courses is not reducing crime, it is massaging the figures. Tell the public that the small resources of the Criminal Defence Service are fighting the great weight of the State, and the unnecessary burden to the taxpayer is caused by the inefficiency of the Court system and the Crown Prosecution Service.
I now work in predominantly privately funded work and I spend most of my life now explaining to clients that the system is so inefficient that it is falling apart. Clients get told when they enter a not guilty plea that the Prosecution will provide disclosure within 28 days. Do they ever? But people who have no contact with the criminal justice system cannot understand how inefficient the system is. Get the message out that it is not the criminal defence solicitors or barristers that are causing the problem, it is the system as a whole, and potentially the public may realise that if they were ever in trouble they would need one of us to stand up for them.
To continue to bleat on about giving clients choice simply will not work. That system is going to happen. The petition runs until October. Do you really think the Ministry of Justice is waiting until October to see how many people sign a petition before making any further developments?
It is time to act now and do something more positive rather than all of us keep repeating the same message on bulletin boards and blogs.
It was recently reported in the Law Society Gazette that the government has announced new plans for criminal defence tendering in order to reduce the number of lawyers representing criminals in order to ensure that the Legal Aid budget is reduced. This is a decision that should be supported rather than opposed. The government is trying to reduce public debt in a time of recession and economic uncertainly but unfortunately many fat cat lawyers from large criminal defence solicitors are up in arms.
The main thrust of their complaint is that the government is going to take away the right of suspects to choose their own solicitors. This is a decision that should be applauded. Criminal defence lawyers are up in arms reciting human rights to choose a lawyer of choice. In reality what they are saying is that they may not get as much work in the future. The public would probably support this view on the basis that when every other taxpaying member of society goes into hospital they are appointed a GP, surgeon or consultant employed by the National Health Service all of which is paid for by the taxpayer. The patient has no choice to choose and is simply assigned a National Health Service medical practitioner. What is different with this than the Court appointing a very often non-tax paying member of the criminal fraternity a lawyer to be paid at the public expense.
It is time some of these large firms realise that the glory days of the fat cat lawyer are over.
Reported some time ago that a Norfolk Police Officer PC Kelly Jones was making a claim for personal injuries against a garage where she fell whilst investigating a possible break-in.
It was recently reported in the Law Society Gazette that a police spokesman for the Police Federation said “many officers find themselves unable to work through injury and will often pay for their own medical treatment so they can come back into service as quickly as possible”.
This is complete and utter balderdash on behalf of the Police Federation. The Police Service must have the highest number of sick days in any organisation and the fact that 8,000 police officers have successfully claimed compensation totalling £70 million in the last four years shows what a litigious group of people the police really are. I having served in Greater Manchester Police for four years never met anybody who paid for their own treatment to return to work as soon as possible. I met many officers who spent as long as possible skiving on the sick taking full salary for six months when there was absolutely nothing wrong with them only to come back to work for a short period of time to disappear on the sick yet again.
I am sure the unnamed Police Federation spokesman has himself spent a lifetime on the sick and now encourages police officers to sue for damages.
This really does set a bad tone for society when house owners, business owners or anybody is society may feel scared not to call the Police Force to investigate a crime. Quotes on the side of police cars like serving the community, protecting the public does not seem to fit well when really police officers seem to be looking for every opportunity to serve their own pockets well.
Recently it has been revealed in the legal press that firms carrying out publically funded Legal Aid work will be subject to new tendering plans to continue doing the work.
Many large law firms have already criticised the plans saying the fact that the government want to allocate a lawyer to a case rather than giving the client a choice of lawyer is a fundamental breach of client choice.
In summary what is wrong with this. It is a publically funded organisation so why should people who are being given a service for free have the continuing right to choose who they want to deal with them. Compare this to a hospital when somebody is taken in they have no choice over the doctor who is appointed to treat them. What is wrong in the legal field with this concept.
The continuing remarks by these large firms that client choice will be reduced is not something that is going to find much favour with the wider taxpaying public.
In reality this is the government cutting the public’s exposure to Legal Aid and the large law firms are the ones that are going to be cut. The government is going to give the contracts on a equal volume share basis in individual areas. Therefore large law firms with large overheads will have to submit larger tenders to ensure their large offices and staff are accommodated but in reality the smaller medium firms who have less overheads and expense but who are prepared to do hard work and represent more clients are the ones the government are going to choose to give the contracts to.
This will ensure that the Legal Aid Fund is reduced and a smaller number of lawyers will do the work they will just have to work harder to do it. The image of the fat cat lawyer wanting to represent clients of choice whilst a nice concept for the individual lawyer concerned is not something that is going to find much merit with the government or taxpayers.
Another spectacular success for Mr Loophole as he fails to get Sarah Harding off a ban for totting up.
His words seem to have been turned back on him and the District Judge accepted his submission that Sarah Harding was nothing more than an ordinary person and in the ordinary course of events gave her a six month ban from driving. I bet she is delighted she has paid for Mr Freeman’s services now.