High court challenge against legal aid cuts highlights growing risk of miscarriages of justice
The Law Society today issued proceedings against the Ministry of Justice to challenge a decision to implement further cuts to legal aid.
Payments for paper-heavy crown court cases - where large amounts of evidence are served - have been slashed and the defence in complex trials has been hit by a substantial cut. This is on top of multiple pressures defence lawyers are already facing in their efforts to ensure justice is served.
Law Society president Joe Egan said: “The government is cutting the payments made to defence lawyers for considering and responding to evidence served by the prosecution. Their justification for this cut is that electronic and social media evidence is not always relevant to the complexity of the case. However, it was exactly this social media evidence that defence lawyers had to examine in order to secure the exoneration of Liam Allen.”
Terror cases, fraud cases and serious historic sex cases require a large amount of work, for which solicitors should be paid. These new funding cuts mean defence lawyers may no longer have the resources to review the evidence as thoroughly as is required.
Joe Egan said: “Disclosure of evidence is integral to a criminal investigation, and yet the defence in paper heavy cases are being penalised.
“These arbitrary cuts could have a very detrimental impact on justice. We believe this is unlawful, and that’s why we’re taking the government to the High Court.”
Joe Egan concluded: “As we have said before, justice is under threat and it is with great regret we are having to take this step. However, we are resolute.”
Notes to editors
- The government implemented the cuts on 24 October 2017.
- The number of pages of prosecution evidence served on a defendant that their lawyers will be able to claim against is to be reduced from 10,000 to 6,000.
- The Ministry of Justice received a total of 1,005 responses to its consultation on the cuts and the views expressed were almost entirely against the proposals.
- In June 2017 the Law Society issued a practice note to legal aid solicitors specialising in criminal law reminding them that they can exercise their discretion when deciding to accept cases if the work threatens the viability of their firm.
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