VOTE: Right to a fair trial is at stake, solicitors say

Lancaster solicitors outside Lancaster Magistrates Court highlighting the Access For Justice Campaign to Save Legal Aid and the right to choose solicitors.
Lancaster solicitors outside Lancaster Magistrates Court highlighting the Access For Justice Campaign to Save Legal Aid and the right to choose solicitors.

Solicitors staged a protest over Government proposals to change the way legal aid is managed.

The solicitors protested outside Lancaster Magistrates Court on Monday, claiming the proposed system would lead to “conveyor belt justice”.

They say the Government’s plans to overhaul the system would remove the right for defendants to choose a solicitor and result in miscarriages of justice.

One of the most controversial proposals is to introduce competitive tendering for contracts to provide lawyers for defendants in criminal trials.

To guarantee winning bidders receive enough cases, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) proposes to remove the right of legal aid funded defendants to choose their own solicitor.

John Halewood-Dodd and Rachel Hood, directors of LHD Solicitors of Church Street, which has been operating for 40 years and employs 25 staff, staged the protest with other solicitors, supported by the Public and Commercial Services Union.

The Government said the right to a fair trial would not be affected and lawyers would have to meet quality standards.

But Mr Halewood-Dodd said plans to introduce fixed fees would result in huge pressures to get a guilty plea, which would be the “most profitable” outcome in a system where “reputation and competition do not matter”.

He said: “Basically the lowest bid wins.

“The legal system in this country as we know it is in serious jeopardy.

“Why change a system that is considered the best in the world? Every firm in Lancashire has confirmed that they will not be bidding because no-one thinks it’s right or fair.

“People who need it won’t get access to specialist help. It will be conveyor belt justice, even the government has accepted that quality will suffer.”

Mr Halewood-Dodd said that 90 per cent of his company’s clients were supported by legal aid.

“With fixed fees, who is going to go that extra mile? Everyone will just say plead guilty,” he added.

“If this comes in, there will be no going back.”