Irish lawyers’ group warns over British free legal aid cost cut
Plans pose ‘unprecedented threat’ to public’s right to justice, says London Irish Lawyers’ Association
Plans being pushed by British justice secretary Chris Grayling would “hit the most vulnerable”, including migrants, children, and victims of domestic violence and trafficking, the London Irish Lawyers’ Association said. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Efforts by the British government to cut free criminal legal aid costs in England and Wales pose “an unprecedented threat” to the public’s right to justice, Irish lawyers based in London have warned.
In an effort to secure £220 million of savings, ministers want to cut fees and force legal firms to tender for bulk legal aid contracts – meaning that people would no longer choose their own representatives.
“The London-Irish community is one which has experienced the devastating impact of miscarriages of justice, disadvantage, migration and poverty,” said barrister Gráinne Mellon.
The 400-strong London Irish Lawyers’ Association said it believed the proposals would limit the right to legal services; threaten rights to justice and “indeed the integrity of the legal system as a whole”.
The plans now being pushed by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, would “hit the most vulnerable”, including migrants, children, and victims of domestic violence and trafficking, said the group.
People affected by illegal actions by public bodies will not be able to obtain legal representation while the state government “will continue to engage” top-quality barristers and solicitors, it said.
The proposed cuts would increase the number of failed prosecutions and miscarriages of justice; create longer, more ineffective trials and endanger public confidence in the law.
Objecting particularly to the effort to stop defendants choosing their own legal representation, the association said the existing rules are “a crucial component of equality of arms.
“Furthermore, awarding legal aid contracts to the lowest bidder ensures that cost prevails over competence and quality,” it said, adding that some lawyers may push innocent clients to plead guilty.
Under Mr Grayling’s plans, however, free legal aid would be removed in cases where prisoners are claiming discrimination, or objecting to treatment from prison warders.
Such cases, he has argued, are “unnecessary” and should be resolved by the prison service, removing 11,000 cases annually from the courts and saving £4 million a year.