John Halewood-Dodd column: Taking away choice for Legal Aid cases

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As a Criminal Defence lawyer who has been representing, and hopefully helping, the local community for 20 years, I was grateful to be given the opportunity to do this column.

This is especially so as I feel we are potentially facing the most fundamental change to the British judicial system since the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.

Don’t worry this isn’t a history lesson but as we approach the 800th anniversary of that historic event it appears poignant that we consider what its signing brought about.

It established that subjects could not be punished except through “the law of the land.” A system of ‘justice’ has developed since then which is respected throughout the world and is copied in countless other countries.

One of the fundamental aspects of our system is to allow those accused to instruct the person of their choice to represent them during their time of need.

This government is proposing that choice is taken away for those who apply for Legal Aid. They suggest that those needing legal representation are not “great connoisseurs of legal skills” and so should have no say in who represents them.

This offensively suggests that anyone unfortunate enough to be accused of a crime is “too thick to pick” their lawyer.

If these proposals are brought in it could mean that there are no longer any Criminal Defence solicitors left in this area.

The number of firms has already reduced from 13 to 3!

I would be extremely interested to discover what people’s views are on this issue. If you wish to register your opposition sign the e-petition at epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628.