Tour Report #21: Podcast with Michael Turner QC, Chairman of The Criminal Bar Association, on the legal aid reforms

Tour Report #21:  Podcast with Michael Turner QC, Chairman of The Criminal Bar Association,  on the legal aid reforms

To set the context, I quote from an article in The Express:

High Street solicitors could be forced to close by Government legal aid changes
MORE than 1,500 High Street solicitors will be forced to close branches “within a year” if the Government’s controversial legal aid reform plans succeed.

The loss of High Street solicitors would also have a severe impact on barristers. Michael Turner QC, head of the Criminal Bar Association, warned: “Our barristers’ system will fail. Our brilliant judiciary comes from the Bar. Once you have Tesco and G4S providing advocates, you will get Tesco and G4S judges in 10 years’ time. Make no bones about it, we are facing absolute devastation to what is the finest legal system in the world.”

He rejected claims that Britain’s legal aid was the most expensive in Europe. “You have a different system there, with investigative magistrates who interview witnesses, and the big cost is the judicial spend.”…..

Access to justice in a civilised society is fundamental to the Rule of Law and the rights enshrined in our Human Rights laws to a fair trial.

The Independent covers the theme:

New legal aid reforms end ‘justice for all’, lawyers warn

England’s 800-year-old tradition of fair and open access to justice for all will be destroyed by sweeping Government plans to reform criminal legal aid, senior judges and magistrates warn today.

In an attempt to save £200 million by 2018, the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling plans to stop paying solicitors for the work they do – and instead give them a fixed fee for each case they represent.

Lawyers will be incentivised to recommend guilty pleas to their clients, a coalition of judges, magistrates and civil liberties groups warns. Their fears are backed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates miscarriages of justice on behalf of the Government.

Criminal suspects will lose their rights to choose or dismiss a solicitor, and the number of accredited legal aid firms will drop from 1,600 to less than 400 – raising the possibility that hundreds of small high street firms could be replaced by huge contractors like G4S.

“The Government is creating a system where potentially the same company could defend you, lock you up in prison and then rehabilitate you when you come out,” said one judicial source……”

 Under plans to save £200m solicitors will be paid fixed fees, with contracts going to firms like G4S

Interestingly, two well regarded judges have commented on the issue…

The current President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, is understood to have deep reservations about Mr Grayling’s plan. Sources suggest that he believes it undermines the right – first enshrined in the Magna Carta – that “to no man shall we deny justice”.

The former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf told The Independent on Sunday that the proposals would lead to a “factory of mass-produced justice” and miscarriages of justice.

“It is the complete privatisation of justice.”

Michal Turner QC has robust views on the proposed reforms which will have a considerable impact on access to justice, the profession, the public and have a devastating effect on the very cornerstone of our democracy.

Listen to the podcast

iTunes version of the podcast

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Some useful links:

Michael Turner QC

Criminal Bar Association

The Independent: New legal aid reforms end ‘justice for all’, lawyers warn

David Allen Green, The New Statesman: How the Ministry of Justice’s proposal for the tendering of criminal legal aid is misconceived and illiberal

The Ministry of Justice consultation document: Transforming Legal Aid: Delivering a more credible and efficient system

Barrister 999: Legal Aid – some thoughts

Crimeline: DO NOT expect others to do things for you. It is your justice system at risk. Do something – here are some ideas.

Criminal Bar Association: PRICE COMPETITIVE TENDERING. A SOLICITOR’S VIEW FROM THE HIGH STREET

Crimsolicitor: The right to choose…

(Sorry about the minor technical recording difficulty at the beginning of the podcast – thankfully we only lost the  introduction – and a very brief summary of the Ministry of Justice proposals which are linked above under the links section.  We also had the sound of crockery being laid out in an adjoining room – which accounts for a very brief pause in recording eight minutes in!

Michael Turner gave me a short history of the Garden Court Chambers building and an excellent tour.  Fascinating. 

Please spread the word about this podcast – #SaveUKJustice)