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11 April 2014
The Government is currently undertaking a consultation regarding the funding of Criminal cases. The proposals may result in large numbers of respected high street firms disappearing from our towns and cities. It could also mean that if you find yourself involved in the Criminal Justice System you will have no choice in who represents you.
Criminal convictions can have a devastating impact on your family life, employment, and even your holiday plans (countries such as the United States require information about certain criminal convictions when you apply for a visa to enter the country). If you are reading this thinking "This doesn't apply to me, I'm not a criminal." Think again. Any of us could be arrested, detained at the police station, questioned under caution and charged with a criminal offence. Just because someone has made an allegation that the police investigate doesn't make that allegation automatically true. If someone accused you of an offence you hadn't committed wouldn't you want to be represented by a competent, experienced lawyer? Of course you would.
If you are reading this thinking "I don't qualify for Legal Aid, this doesn't apply to me." Think again. The majority of criminal solicitors undertake Legal Aid work and if this is removed the pool of lawyers you will be able to instruct will be diminished.
Clearly, not all allegations are untrue or malicious and so called 'career criminals' do exist. Many of these people suffer from mental health problems, drug or alcohol addictions and are the product of a chaotic family background. They are simply not able to speak on their own behalf in what is an intimidating environment. It's not about 'getting the guilty off,' its about ensuring that the individual, alone in a courtroom surrounded by agencies of the state has a voice, quite often that voice is there to express that the individual is guilty and ask for help to address the issues that brought them to court.
We very much hope that you do not suffer the misfortune of being accused of committing a crime, but if you do we hope that you still have the right (not the luxury as it is portrayed by the government) to choose the lawyer to fight your case and not simply be allocated a representative on a random basis.
Access to justice is a very easy concept to disregard until it is you to whom it has been denied.
Efficient justice is cheaper justice.
Emma Covington is a Higher Rights Advocate with a wealth of Criminal Litigation experience.