Partner Jonathan Black comments in The Times over unrepresented defendants

Court efficiency ‘robbing’ defendants of legal aid

Judges are increasingly failing to alert defendants that they are eligible for legal aid if a prison sentence is likely on conviction, a prominent criminal law specialist told The Brief yesterday.

His comments came as a 21-year-old man was not represented by a lawyer when he pleaded guilty at Lincoln crown court to two charges of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.

Joshua Bagley, of Trinity Court, Louth, was reported by the Lincolnshire Echo to have represented himself before Judge Michael Heath. The judge is reported to have told Bagley: “I am not in a position …of saying you will not go to prison, but the fact you have pleaded guilty and were unrepresented will go very much in your favour.”

Jonathan Black, the former president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors‘ Association, said that while it was not known whether Bagley was advised regarding the availability of legal aid, the case potentially typified a growing trend. “Defendants are not being told that they are eligible for legal aid,” he told The Brief, “and judges – even crown court judges – are under increasing pressure to conform to case management requirements to simply get on with it.”

According to Black, a former barrister who now runs the law firm BSB Solicitors in London, “there is a real drive to ensure that matters proceed without any adjournments no matter what”.

Black said that even in cases where a defendant pleads guilty, legal representation is crucial for dealing with pre-sentencing issues. And in sexual assault cases, issues involving signing the sex offenders register and sexual harm prevention orders also require legal advice.