Every year UK government allocates about two billion pounds (about 3.2 billion) on legal aid; half of the amount goes to criminal cases, another half to civilian ones. The Ministry of Justice is expected to reduce the appropriation to 215 million pounds ($344 million). Under the plan, the salary of lawyers in complex and expensive affairs should be decreases by 30%, in the rest – by 18%. In criminal cases the contracts will be distributed through the tender, which is likely to be won by those offering the lowest costs. As a consequence, the defendants will not be able to choose a legal representative.
Probation legal adjustments
In the field of probation a number of changes has also been implemented. General Secretary of the National Association of Inspectors Jan Lawrence criticised the project of the Ministry. ‘The government’s plan to transfer 70% of inspection to private owners is rash and untested – he says. ‘It’s a dangerous social experiment that will lead to reductions in the area of rehabilitation and the risk of collapse of the control system, which would create a danger to society’.
Ministry of Justice plans to raise concerns and grievances and lawyers. Nicola Hill, president of the Association of London Criminal Courts Solicitors, is convinced that the desire of minister to save on legal aid system can lead to disaster. ‘The risk that the innocent may go to jail, the nightmare may become reality’, – warns Hill. ‘The number of cases of injustice in common people will increase, because the citizens won’t be able to get a decent lawyer’. Matt Foot of Justice of the Commonwealth has the same opinion: ‘Because of the cuts [appropriations], all but the rich will suffer, so we decided to unite and fight back’.
London solicitors association measures, which is the government do not seem forced. The Association believes that they cause serious damage to the criminal justice system, because qualified and experienced lawyers will leave their job, paid from the state budget, and will be looking for more profitable places. According to forecasts of the association, many law firms will quickly go to the bottom, while professionals will be replaced by less skilled employees and, accordingly, not such costly. Although, good solicitor doesn’t always mean expensive one, mention but one example: kind of agreement when you don’t have to pay legal fees if case isn’t success – see more details about it on the no win no fee agreements issue.
Among the lawyers supporting the union of human rights, defenders and civil society are such groups as Liberty, Unite, The Howard League for Penal Reform, Coram Children’s Legal Centre. A charitable organisation Children’s Society drew attention to the fact that the blow will be delivered to children, and legal aid will not be available to ‘the most vulnerable population group’ including those who suffer from domestic violence. ‘If people are not able to consult with a lawyer due to the fact that more and more law firms are closed’, says the head of the organization Gillian Guy, ‘then the catastrophic effects of innovations will affect not only those who are indicted, but the whole society’. Human rights organizations have expressed the view that the planned changes will undermine the international prestige of the entire judicial system of Great Britain.
According to Solicitors Guru, the platform aggregating hundreds of legal UK enterprises, the impact was huge, but in general companies are reconsidering their strategies and some of them succeed. Some companies despite the stagnation, e.g. Forster Dean, a prominent UK no win no fee and accident claims agency, has managed to advance despite the blow delivered to the industry, expanding its services throughout the entire country.