Pre-requisites for a safe criminal justice system II: Legal representation.

In addition to committing to spending on GOOD science (see my earlier post here… ), governments have a responsibility to provide free legal representation to those who cannot afford it. This responsibility however, is being increasingly shirked by many governments, who see legal aid (as it’s called in the UK) as a cost that can be cut. This is dangerous territory. One of the leading causes of miscarriages of justice is poor legal representation. In addition, if a defendant has NO, or very poor, legal representation, little can be done to challenge other defects in the criminal process and flawed evidence leading to wrongful convictions. In the UK, there are also major concerns that the lack of funding for lawyers will lead to many more legal professionals opting out of doing any criminal legal aid work, or doing so in such numbers (to make it worth their while financially) that they will merely be able to offer the most basic of services, with great temptation to get suspects to ‘plead’ early to avoid spending more time than necessary on making a defence. See some commentary on the cuts here…

Legal aid: Government consults on £220m savings plan.

Our justice system is being turned into Profit & Growth plc

Criminal legal aid bill to be cut by £220m

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The cuts are combined with measures such as ‘Best Value Tendering’, where legal firms must submit the lowest bid in order to secure rights to defend suspects – an immediate attack on quality. In response, the government is trying to introduce ‘QASA’ – Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates. The introduction of this scheme has already led to unprecedented action among the legal profession and seems set to incite strike action soon. There are also suggestions being made that volunteer legal advice centres – including those set up in law schools, can pick up the work. Putting an incredible burden on these resource-poor and inexperienced individuals.

Similar plans to cut legal aid are moving ahead across Australia too:

Vulnerable hit by cuts to legal aid

imagesIn the UK in particular, legal aid is being cut from certain individuals altogether, with prisoners no longer eligible. Proper legal representation is not a luxury. It will not be long before any economic benefits at all are wiped out by the increased costs of failed trials and wrongful convictions.

4 responses to “Pre-requisites for a safe criminal justice system II: Legal representation.

  1. Free legal representation was a great idea – however if you are in courtroom and observe how it is misused one would have to insist on limitations. There has to be a better solution to the legal system all the way around. Perhaps there could be a limit to the fees charged – or a set fee for service amount and limit the amount of delays that are an added cost to paying clients, rescheduling, refiling and printing costs add $$$$$ to their bill.

  2. The prosecution and defense should be given the same amount of money to bring a case to court. If more money is needed by the prosecution then that same amount should be set aside for the defense and vice versa. The prosecution should be treated like defense and not be in the same place as the courts.

    It would be interesting just to see this type of system in action. Truly if everyone is said to be innocent until proven guilty then we should be paying for defense as well as prosecution.

    Additionally, those paying taxes would sit up and listen and keep a more watchful eye on all the expenditure of criminal cases and keeping people in prison.

  3. Janet A.F. Valenzuela

    How many times have “deals” been made and finalized in court house elevators between defense attorney’s and prosecutor’s … defense attorneys “selling” out their clients’…”you give me this, I’ll take care of you later”…what the H____! …My husband is serving a 74 to life – wrongfully convicted, innocent factually, an incompetent lawyer, over zealous prosecutor (who by the way came in to the court room the day of sentencing bragging to the judge on her promotion) tunnel vision lasd detective and a victim that misidentified on a 6-pack ….oh I forgot to mention the incident occurred 11/01 and my husband was arrested in 3/03..imagine… there is more than meets the eye here … greed, corruption, judges that don’t honor the position of course not all are “bad”,
    I want to believe that … but just spend a few days in L.A. county court house elevators..then YOU decide…
    My husband is going on 12th year- currently at the Kern Valley State Prison, Delano , Ca

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