But it was the forensic questioning that hit home.The Conservatives have long been unhappy with legal aid, as was New Labour when they were in power and one blogger suggested the goal was not a cheaper, but a radical different legal aid system:
"Can you remind me of the section in the consultation paper which deals with the interests of the user of the service," a solicitor from Oxford asked politely.
"I'm sorry; I don't quite understand what you are saying," Gibby replied after a pause.
"Can you refer me to the section of the paper that deals with the quality of the service provided and the effect on the quality of these proposals," the solicitor asked again.
Gibby and her team of officials still seemed lost for words. Eventually, she asked the solicitor to respond to the consultation paper if he didn't think that quality had been adequately covered in it.
The proposals would introduce competitive tendering for the right to offer legal aid services in particular areas, corresponding roughly to the forty-odd police force areas; no more than four firms would be accredited in any one area. Clients would be assigned to lawyers rather than being able to choose them, and would have to stay with the brief they’d been given throughout the case. The proposals are designed not only to create a cost-driven market in legal aid provision but to open it up to new entrants, corporations offering a standardised and streamlined legal representation service; the Eddie Stobart haulage firm has already expressed an interest.More information about the legal aid cuts can be found at Illegality's link roundup . The cutting of legal aid is only part of the transformation of the English justice system, as summed up the Law and Lawyers blog. Resistance against these changes is widespread; the Save UK Justice epetition has almost 70,000 signatures.
Realistically, a system with cut-price, competitive-tendered, corporatised legal aid will be a system where much less time is spent on case preparation, much less scrutiny is given to materials that may hold vital evidence, and many more suspects and defendants are persuaded to plead Guilty – irrespective of their factual guilt or innocence. In 2000 Andrew Sanders and Richard Young described the criminal justice system as being characterised by “the mass production of guilty pleas”; if these reforms go through, they (and we) ain’t seen nothing yet.
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