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13 June 2014
Back in medieval times, death by a thousand cuts was a common occurrence, and one which was savoured and enjoyed by those in charge. Life as a criminal solicitor is starting to feel very much like this at the moment, and those in charge seem like they are enjoying the show.
There is a common public perception, driven by the press, that criminal solicitors are like Aladdin, rub the lamp and right on cue the money comes a flowing. The reality is so far from this perception it’s not even in the same ball-park. I would love to be Aladdin and get one rub of the lamp, not for the money to come a flowing but so I can jump forward 5 years and look at the smouldering remains of a once proud criminal legal system, laid to waste by a government intent on making savings that are not there to be made.
Let me take you on a journey. I attend at the police station to represent my client, or a client assigned to me because I am on Police Station duty. This could be anytime, day or night and I could be there for 1 hour or 10 hours depending on how long the police wish to interview. The firm receives less than £150 for this. If the client is charged with the offence, onto the Magistrates court we go. Clearly some case preparation will be required by me and attendance at the court, which could be a morning, an afternoon or all day depending on where my client is in the list. My firm gets paid a small fixed fee for this. This is where the majority of cases end, and although some cases move onto the Crown Court for jury trial, they are very much in the minority. Clearly Crown Court is the more lucrative part of Legal Aid for solicitors, but when you take into account the work required for most Crown Court cases, the hourly rate can also be pretty poor.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are savings to be made from the Justice system, I see the wasteful nature of the system in action every day, but criminal legal aid isn’t the place to find those savings.
There are a small number of criminal solicitors that make a very good living from their chosen craft, just like some bankers and accountants. That’s no reason to tarnish the whole profession with the same brush.
Our legal system is built on the pillars of justice for all. If the changes and cuts to criminal legal aid are implemented, these pillars may start to tumble, with only those with wealth being able to benefit. Surely that is wrong, and shouldn’t be allowed? If only we had a lamp like Aladdin!!