I know some of you might have a small inkling of what is going on, but I wanted to explain a little so you can understand and if you feel like it, sign an epetition to try and force a Parliamentary debate.
I know that when some people see the words Criminal Justice System, all you see is the word Criminal, and just automatically assume that it is only criminals that are affected by this, but I urge you to reconsider that.
The Justice Minster, Chris Grayling, without holding any debate or vote in Parliament is about to make fundamental changes to the Justice System, that once done cannot be undone.
The main points of the changes:
Legal aid in criminal cases will be restricted to those with a family income below £37,000.
No longer will individuals be able to choose a solicitor under Legal Aid when accused of a crime.
4 Large Firms will win contracts from the Government to provide all legal aid funded criminal work in a Region (London will be a region).
They will be guaranteed 25% of the work each.
They will bid based ONLY on price. The lowest bidder will win. There is nothing in the contract about quality of service.
Each company will be paid a fixed fee for each case that they receive…regardless of the complexity of the case.
There is nothing in the proposal about ensuring that quality continues after the contracts have been awarded.
Individuals will be allocated to a firm based on a random factor (day of the month you were born for instance).
Once allocated you will not be able to change the lawyer other than in exceptional circumstances.
What impact will this have?
The Government accepts that 1,000 or so high street solicitors firms will close. 1,000 small businesses gone from the High Street. Local knowledge, local connections and a competitive edge to provide an adequate service will all be lost.
The 4 large firms that are bidding will be paid a fixed fee regardless of the amount of work that is actually required. The “plan” being that these firms will lose money on some jobs but gain money on the other jobs.
The fact is that these companies will seek to maximise their profit, they will attempt to make every job a job that they can make money from.
It is the job of the Barrister to explain the legal and evidential matters to the client, and sometimes, it is the job of the Barrister to recommend to the client that they plead guilty to the offence (they cannot do this if the person says they didn’t do it, but they can explain the benefits and explain how strong the prosecution case is and how weak the defence case is).
It is feared that when the company involved makes a profit from your plea of guilty that a conflict of interest will arise. It is feared that these companies may advise people about the benefits of pleading guilty, and over-exaggerate the prosecution case while playing down the possible defences, because it will benefit them financially to do so.
The loss of competition (you cannot choose your lawyer, there will be a fixed amount of work allocated to each firm regardless of their competency) will decrease the quality of work. Any time you create a monopoly on a service you face the very serious risk that quality will be reduced as there is no incentive to ensure that quality comes through in the work.
This is evidenced by the recent changes to interpretors in the UK justice system. ALS and Crapita gained a monopoly of the service and the problems that have followed continue to plague the court system with delays.
I urge all of you to sign the petition below, to force a Parliamentary debate, which is justifiable given the size of the changes being proposed.