The disquiet among lawyers in relation to Chris Grayling’s proposals in relation to the legal aid budget cuts is growing.
You may have heard of the proposals, which in sum, amount to a destruction of the criminal justice system as you and I currently know it.
One proposal which has got lawyers up in arms is to remove the ability for a client to choose his or her lawyer.
First off, the ability to choose your lawyer is a driver of quality. If you go to a restaurant and the food is poor and the staff are rude, chances are you won’t go back. The same is true of lawyers. If your lawyer provides a good service, does his or her job well, is dedicated and hardworking, you may recommend them or use them again. If not, you won’t.
Client choice drives standards up, otherwise, firms and barristers would have no work, and without work, they go bust. Repeat business is essential to firms of solicitors performing criminal legal aid work.
Second, client choice is essential when dealing with the vulnerable and young. Such clients need to be able to trust their lawyer. It may be someone whom they, or their family, have developed a relationship with. The lawyer knows the client and understands them and their issues. The client knows the lawyer and knows he or she can trust them.
In fact, thatpoint applies to all clients, vulnerable or otherwise. If you trust your lawyer and he or she advises you to plead guilty, you are far more likely to do so, than if you are forced to have Mr Tesco or Miss Stobart who has no interest in your case, other than a financial one.
That brings me nicely onto the third point. Client choice has the ability to save money. Under the proposals, the fees paid to the lawyer will be the same irrespective of the amount of work done on the case – a flat fee for a guilty plea or a trial. Figure it out – would you like to be paid £50 for an hours work (guilty plea) or £50 for 15 hours work (trial prep, directions, trial, advice etc.). Clients will be forgiven for questioning the sincerity of their lawyer’s advice.
Where a client pleads guilty because they have been advised by the lawyer they know and trust, money is saved. There is no expensive trial and importantly, justice is done (at good value for money).
Without client choice, there is a risk that justice isn’t done and money may not be saved in some cases. It may be that the client doesn’t plead because they do not know or trust their lawyer. It may be that the client has heard of PCT and that the lawyer assigned to them (by virtue of the star sign-not a joke) has only a financial interest in the case, and so doesn’t trust the advice to plead guilty. It may be that the advice to plead guilty is taken, but the client had a defence, and justice isn’t done. In such a case, there may be the cost of an appeal, at more public expense. Even worse, there may not, and the client suffers from a wrongful conviction.
Grayling was very recently interviewed by the Law Society Gazette. He was given a fair opportunity to put across his views, and did so, explaining that quality would be ‘absolutely essential’ and dismissed concerns that large companies with other MoJ contracts, such as Serco and G4S, will get contracts as ‘scare stories’ circulated by opponents of the reforms.
When asked about the proposal to remove client choice, he was less polished:
‘I don’t believe that most people who find themselves in our criminal justice system are great connoisseurs of legal skills. We know the people in our prisons and who come into our courts often come from the most difficult and challenged backgrounds.’
Such an opinion is startling, and demonstrative of the elitism which the Conservatives have strived to rid from their party – at least outwardly. Is the Lord Chancellor and Sec of State for Justice really suggesting that clients are not bright enough to exercise a freedom of choice over who they want to represent them? This was picked up on Twitter and, unsurprisingly, not well received. The hashtag #toothicktopick caught on very quickly.
Do we really trust a man who suggests that most ‘who find themselves in our criminal justice system’ are too stupid to know who is best to represent them? Even if a client doesn’t have a personal solicitor, or doesn’t know a personal solicitor, is it not a fundamental part of the system to allow him or her to choose who will represent them in what is likely to be a very traumatic and potentially costly experience?
Grayling’s solution to those too thick to pick is Mr Tesco or Miss Stobart, assigned to you by virtue of your star sign, whose only objective may be to get you to plead guilty so they can move on to the next case.
If you, like 70% of people polled on behalf of the Bar Council, believe that the MoJ proposals could lead to innocent people being convicted …
If you, like thousands of others, believe that you should have the right to choose your own lawyer, not be told who will represent you by Chris Grayling that you will be represented by a firm who offered the services at the lowest cost …
If you, like 48,430 people, want to Save UK Justice …
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