Socialist Worker

Solicitors fighting to defend representation for the poor

by Claire Dissington, solicitor at Taylor Nichol
Issue No. 2038

Criminal defence solicitors who work in the legal aid sector are taking action in defence of legal aid this week.

We represent some of the most vulnerable and oppressed people in society.

We trudge down to a police station in the middle of the night and fight for our clients in the magistrates courts. In many cases our wages are lower than other professionals such as teachers and they are getting lower.

Criminal defence solicitors in London will be taking two days of action on Thursday and Friday of this week.

This follows action in the Cardiff area where over 100 criminal defence solicitors withdrew their labour from police stations and courts at the end of last year.

This action is in protest at government reforms known as the Carter reforms. The government has been saying there is no more money for legal aid for years while imprisoning more people and dishing out Asbos to young people.

The government strategy is the creation of large firms with thousands of pounds of turnover while keeping down the wages of ordinary criminal defence solicitors.

We want to stop the introduction of competitive tendering for legal aid services where firms bid for work by undercutting each other, reducing choice for our clients.

Most importantly these changes will jeopardise access to justice. The reforms will lead to thousands of solicitors giving up work and leaving their clients unrepresented.

The government has already cut legal aid by reintroducing means testing in the magistrates courts.

The level of income for this has been set too low and many people on low incomes are already finding they no longer have the right to a solicitor at court.

There has already been an estimated 29 percent drop in legal aid granted for representation in the magistrates courts since October 2006.

The proposed cuts will mean a lower standard of representation for ordinary people and an increase in miscarriages of justice.

The poorest in society will be left with no right to proper representation. We work in the police stations and courts because we want our clients to have the best representation they can.

The days of action this week are intended to grind the courts to a halt. We believe it will be an important start in the fightback.

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Article information

Sat 17 Feb 2007, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2038
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