A Criminal Legal Aid system we should all be proud of

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3 March 2016

A Criminal Legal Aid system we should all be proud of

Like a lot of people this morning I read with some shock this BBC News article regarding the recent trial of Matthews and Hoare where both were convicted of the brutal murder of Becky Watts.  The article makes some suggestion that the cost of such a trial was excessive and indeed an inference that these individuals didnt deserve it.  Don’t believe everything you read in the press.  No matter what element of the press you look at, they will always put their own slant on any given topic.  Press reports on topics such as Legal Aid funding and Murder are definitely topics that are likely to attract public attention and are always worded to ensure maximum coverage of the story.

Unfortunately, the stories do not always reflect the true and accurate picture.

The truth is that the bigger picture on such issues are far more complex, in fact so complex that it cannot be be covered adequately in this blog, let alone in a press report.

Quite often Legal Aid funding isn't granted for those on state benefits or low incomes when they are charged with less serious criminal offences and it is only granted for such cases deemed serious enough by the Government.  In other words, cases where the accused could face a loss of their liberty if convicted.

A loss of liberty is considered the upmost punishment for such serious matters, therefore those who are accused of such serious crimes should be entitled to representation in the criminal justice system.  This is something that we as a nation should be proud of, see CrimeLine Complete's take on this 

Many cases are brought before the Courts across England and Wales and every single person appearing before one of those Courts is subject to the same test to assess their income.  Those on low incomes are usually granted Legal Aid funding but only when the case is considered serious enough.  The funding will cover the costs of ‘legal’ representation both in the Magistrates’ Court and in the Crown Court, however only the most serious cases will appear before a Crown Court.

More importantly, cases such as the one involving Nathan Matthews and Shauna Hoare are few and far between.  On this occasion, the press have honed in on this case due to its severity and the fact that a young girl was murdered.  The figures quoted are very large and clearly designed to paint a poor picture of the legal sector, assuming these figures are correct, which we have reservations about.

I think deep down most individuals believe that EVERYBODY is entitled to a ‘fair trial’ and nobody should be discriminated against in that sense, and rightly so.  Therefore, even those people on low incomes, but who commit the most serious offences, such as Matthews and Hoare, should be entitled to a ‘fair trial’.  Simply because they do not have the funds to pay for legal assistance, does not mean that they should remain unrepresented during any criminal court procedure.

After all, the convictions made against Matthews and Hoare effectively mean that they will both spend a very long time behind bars. For Matthews especially, he is unlikely to ever be released again. Therefore when your liberty is at stake, it is paramount that you receive legal assistance. I am sure that you would all want a legal system such as ours, one that will endeavour to ensure you receive legal representation to ensure a fair trial.

It was also noted in that press report that they both wanted to ‘Appeal’ the decision of the court, for obvious reasons .  Ultimately, however, the decision about whether or not an ‘Appeal’ can even be considered will only be made by the Trial Advocate(s) and that decision will be based upon the merits of the case, as well as the trial process itself, amongst other things. If there were no issues in Law and the trial was, as it is expected to be, fair, they will have no ‘right’ of appeal.  Just because someone wishes to Appeal, it does not mean they can.

Our country has a Criminal Justice System that we should all be proud of, and that we all contribute to through our taxes.  A system that we can be proud of that is equal to everyone regardless of their means does not come cheap.  But it is either that or a system where only those that can afford it receive the justice they are entitled to.

I know which one I prefer.