Price of justice soars out of people’s reach

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CHANGES in entitlement to Legal Aid mean fewer people can afford to have a lawyer representing them at a crown court criminal trial.

And new Government proposals will see Legal Aid axed entirely from a raft of civil law cases, including divorce, custody battles, employment and education law and some debt and housing and benefit cases.

Solicitor Mike Alexander, who acts for clients at Spalding Magistrates’ Court, said changes already made to Legal Aid in the criminal justice system mean people are going to crown court without a lawyer because a trial is going to cost £20,000.

He said: “If you have got a chap earning £250 a week he is not going to get Legal Aid any longer. That is not particularly a lot of money.

“I am acting for a shopkeeper at the moment who is not on a particularly good wage and he’s had to pay £16,000 over the course of three months and it’s killed him. The trial isn’t even under way.”

Mr Alexander said another solicitor needed a psychiatric report for a client but the Legal Services Commission would pay only £150 an hour.

He said: “No psychiatrist in the country is able to do a report for £150 an hour so no report was done.”

A district judge ordered a psychiatric report in the same case, but it still couldn’t be done because the courts themselves have no money to pay.

Mr Alexander knows of a defendant before the crown court on a serious charge who cannot afford a lawyer – but the judge has adjourned the hearing three times for him to seek legal representation.

Another big squeeze on the criminal justice system will come with Government plans to remove the right of defendants found not guilty to have the “reasonable” costs of hiring their own lawyer reimbursed.

Mr Alexander says that effectively means defendants will only have costs paid back at Legal Aid rates, giving them just £5,000 when they have spent £20,000 proving their innocence.

The solicitor does not act in civil cases but the new Government proposals have been roundly condemned by leading figures including Law Society president, Linda Lee, who says they will be a “disaster” and will prevent people turning to the justice system and hurt the most vulnerable.

The average wage in South Holland is £19,600.