Ministers get Bar warning over risk of injustice from criminal legal aid cuts

A rush to slash legal aid fees will cause damage to the quality of justice, barristers have warned Ministers. A raft of submissions from the Bar Council, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), young barristers and the Bar's regional circuits are unanimous in criticising proposals by the Ministry of Justice for cuts in criminal legal aid.

The Government wants to cut pay for barristers doing publiclyfunded criminal defence work by up to 23%. They propose to reverse the 2007 implementation of a review of legal aid by Lord Carter of Coles which was designed to head off a crisis in the criminal justice system triggered by a 10-year pay freeze for barristers. The Bar Council and CBA today voice grave concerns about the impact of the cuts on the diversity of the Bar and the Judiciary, and the potential risk of miscarriages of justice which cause needless cost to the public purse.

Commenting on the Bar Council’s response, Desmond Browne QC, the Chairman of the Bar said:

"Our submissions emphasise the potentially huge impact of these proposed cuts on access to justice and the diversity of the profession. No account has been taken of the likely consequences in other areas of public expenditure. Ministers will be failing in their duty without a full investigation of their proposals including the impact on Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) practitioners”.

He added:

"These cuts risk creating a two-tier legal system in which only those with private funds can afford proper representation. Such a situation cannot be allowed to develop. We urge the Government to reconsider their proposals before it is too late."