Legal Aid cuts debated

Defendants Costs Orders in the Crown Court are to go.

Yesterday, there was a debate. You can read it all here. A removal of Civil Legal in all but a few scenarios is part of the proposed changes, and the removal of what are known as Defendants Costs Orders the remainder.

Tomorrow will see the infamous Clause 12 debated, and undoubtedly approved.

Make no mistake, this is all out attack on the basis of justice, and upon legal aid provision and providers, which threatens all of us.

It may not make the headlines, but in time these changes may be seen for what they are. You decide.

When challenged about an apparent volte-face, the Minister replied that his governments’ change of mind was entirely justified:

“Mr Slaughter:  Two years ago, asked for a comment on this type of provision, the Attorney-General, the then shadow Justice Secretary, said: 

“it is wrong. If a person wishes to be represented privately or has to be, then they are entitled at the end of criminal proceedings in which they are acquitted to recover their reasonable costs in exactly the same way as they would be able to do in civil proceedings” 

I believe the Minister, who was also in the shadow Justice team at the time, associated himself with those comments. What has led him to change his mind? 

Mr Djanogly:  We have changed our mind towards what the then Government were thinking. There are reasons why we have come round to that. First, we realise that we simply cannot afford the luxury of a system that pays legal costs at rates three to four times higher than legal aid rates. Secondly, we cannot afford to fund the dream team defence when someone wealthy has engaged top lawyers to defend relatively minor cases at rates many times higher than legal aid. Legal aid rates are reasonable and sustainable. They are the norm in most criminal cases. Thirdly, following the central funds’ judicial review of the previous Government’s policy, the Government have set out a new legal framework in the Bill for central funds. This has enabled us to take a fresh look at central funds. 

It is clear this proposal will affect many people, and will restrict their ability to recover the money they spend on defending themselves. In the Magistrates Court the amount which can be recovered will be capped at legal aid rates regardless of how much may have been spent, so either their lawyers work for less, or they do not recover all they may spend.

Is that fair? The taxpayer has funded the prosecution, by paying the costs (which are not so capped) of the police and the prosecution lawyers, as well as the court costs.

If you are acquitted, it is hard to see why you should not recover all of the legal costs you have incurred. In civil cases, the expression is ‘costs follow the event’. Put simply, if you win, the other side in a civil case pays your legal costs. Not in criminal cases if this becomes law.

In the Crown Court, no money which has been spent on fighting to clear your name will be recoverable. Nothing.