Tag Archives: Chris Grayling

The public are too thick to pick their lawyer says ChrisGrayling

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.

A summary of the proposals can be found here, by David Allen Green and here by the BBC.

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 …

Sign this petition

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628

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Cautions for rapists? Really?

Chris_Grayling_picGetty_678133903

Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling demonstrates yet further that he has no understanding of the justice system or the criminal law.

On Tuesday in Parliament, he said:

“For example, we would all view a caution for rape as completely unacceptable, but in some cases where the victim is absolutely unwilling to give evidence it may be the only way to get something on the record about an offender. We must be careful about this issue and try to get it right.”

Now aside from the obvious confused message that whilst cautions are unacceptable, the MoJ are potentially in favour of them in such situations, Grayling’s proposition is deeply concerning.

He is advocating cautions in cases where a rape complaint has been made, but where the complainant does not want to give evidence. Let’s look at the benefits.

Pros

First off, the defendant ‘has his card marked’. The obvious advantage of this is that there is a record that a) there was a complaint made against him and b) he admitted the allegation. Therefore, if in the future there is another complaint made, his details are known to the police. There are obvious advantages to that.

Second, the defendant will be subject to the notification requirements (2 years if aged 18+, 12 months if under 18). There are obvious advantages to this also –a defendant who accepts the allegation is then subject to notification (which offers a degree of ‘protection’ to the public) where he would otherwise not be so subject.

Third, from a statistics perspective, the caution, although not qualifying as a conviction, would probably be included in crime detection rates.

Fourthly, again whilst not qualifying as a conviction, the caution could be used in subsequent criminal proceedings.

Cons

So what are the drawbacks? Well first and foremost is that there is a serious allegation which is not being tested. The police presumably dangle the caution in front of the defendant and with a bit of persuasion (‘you’re looking at 5 years +’, ‘a Crown Court trial is very stressful’, ‘your work, family and friends will hear all about it’) accepting a caution appears more appealing.

That causes (or should cause) you concern. These are serious allegations which are going untested. The defendant has the right to have the case against him proven (if he contests it) and should not be coerced into pleading guilty or accepting a caution because the risk of going to trial on balance is not worth it.

Secondly, as Grayling seems to accept, it is unacceptable to offer a caution for an allegation of rape. One may say that for a child committing rape against a child, it may be appropriate, however, Grayling appears to be talking more broadly and it appears to me that rape is not an offence for which a caution should be offered. The offence is a serious one and as suggested in the press yesterday, sends the wrong message out to victims and the wider public.

Last year, there were 19 offenders given cautions for rape. The MoJ said that most of these were under 18s. Whilst 19 is a small number in comparison to the number of convictions for rape each year, those are 19 cases in which the evidence was not tested and we are unclear on the basis on which the conviction was offered and accepted.

The police are not supposed to caution until there has been an admission obtained. They are not supposed to offer the inducement of a caution to gain an admission however. Also, someone cannot be cautioned unless there is sufficient evidence to give rise to a realistic prospect of conviction and if it is clear that the complainant won’t co-operate, it is hard to see that the test would be satisfied. However, the police sometimes bend the rules on this.

Grayling

So what to make of Grayling? At the very least, I think he needs to think before he speaks. But perhaps that is the problem.