Legal aid cuts hit even our most prominent

Legal aid cuts hit even our most prominent

Courtroom

On Thursday April 10th, 2014 Nigel Evans, MP was cleared by the Crown Court in Preston on nine charges of sexual assault and no doubt, he emerged a very happy man but clearly, once he had overcome the sense of relief, he looked at his legal bill and then at his bank account and felt that, although a free man, he perhaps was less than happy after all.

 

In an interview on ITV’s Daybreak, Nigel Evans pointed out that he had been shocked to learn that, although he had been cleared of all charges, he was still expected to pay his bill. Go down on the streets of your local town and ask the first person you encounter “hi there, if someone made an allegation against you and the CPS brought a prosecution against you, could you be forced to sell your home and use your life savings to defend yourself or would the state pick up the bill?” and if they think that they would have to pay, ask them “if you were found not guilty, then what, would the bill still be yours?”. I have no evidence to back this up but I bet my last sock that most would be convinced that they would not have to pay, that when the police says “you have a right to a solicitor”, that that means free legal representation. Perhaps not quite but I suspect very much that most ordinary people, that man on the Clapham omnibus we know so very well, think that just like a doctor will be provided if you are ill, a lawyer will be provided if you are in trouble with the law.

Indeed, that was the idea behind the introduction of legal aid, to democratise the law just as we had democratised health and education.

Someone on a MP’s salary certainly will not get legal aid and even people on very modest incomes are expected to contribute to what is often a costly bill.

 

Trouble is, for many, cutting legal aid is fine because, of course, it only affects those hapless people who steal and wreak havoc; that kid who robbed my son of his phone in the park, that yobbo who smashed my car window and nicked the camera I had forgotten or that horrid man next door who beats his wife after he’s been to the pub on pay-day. Of course, those of us who have some actual experience of the world of law know full well that what Nigel Evans experienced happens daily and to many law-abiding citizens and that Nigel Evans experience of being “punished twice” by having to foot the bill for defending himself is something many people face. Legal aid has not just been cut in criminal cases, it has also been removed from many civil cases such as housing, debt, divorce and immigration.

 

Shelter, the housing charity has claimed that almost 4 million households live one month away from losing their home without any savings to cover the bills even for one month, let alone court costs and bailiff charges when the bank comes for your home. Indeed, the reality is not as simple as just a headline but it is also true that most us live precarious lives with very little in the way of margins and certainly not £130,000 in the bank to help us defend ourselves in court. Legal aid is not about giving tax-payers money to the lazy and feckless, it is about democracy, social justice and welfare. It is about all of us, even MPs.

 

Nottingham Law School


One thought on “Legal aid cuts hit even our most prominent

  • Martin McBrearty

    I believe Legal Aid should remain available to qualifying citizens, however, these people should be required repay their legal fees to the Legal Aid Agency.

    This should be repaid through instalments. Should citizens be unable to repay such fees, this may be because they receive a low rate benefit. They must repay the fees through unpaid work within the community.

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