Criminal cuts? The legal aid debate

Wednesday 17 November, 6.00pm until 7.30pm, Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA

Venue: Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA

Tickets: £7.50 (£5 concessions) per person. Tickets are available from the Institute of Ideas website.

In the run up to the general election, Labour announced plans to slash the legal aid budget and to introduce measures that would have led to the closure of 80 per cent of legal aid criminal defence firms. Given that Labour created over 3000 new criminal offences, one for each day they were in power, this proposed slashing of legal aid raised the question of who is supposed to defend those accused of all these new offences. The new coalition government has announced its intention to put a stop to the creation of ‘needless’ new criminal offences, yet the question of how the Ministry of Justice is to manage budget cuts of £320 million has been left up in the air. Criminal legal aid is still under threat.

In spite of the gravity of the situation, legal aid is rarely discussed by anybody outside the legal profession. Further, it seems that any positive case lawyers make for legal aid is greeted with accusations of overt self-interest and greed. Is the right to choose your own lawyer, which depends on the availability of legal aid, still important? Or is it a waste of funds that would be better spent on preventing crime happening in the first place? Should the state handle the defence as well as the prosecution in the name of greater efficiency, or are independent criminal defence services worth defending? What is the role for criminal legal aid in a society with more criminal offences than ever before?

The discussion will be introduced by Shreela Ghosh, director, Free World Centre.

John Cooper
leading criminal and human rights barrister; regular columnist, The Times and Observer; editor, Criminal Bar Quarterly

Desmond Hudson
chief executive, Law Society, England and Wales

Steve Hynes
director, Legal Action Group; co-author, The Justice Gap: whatever happened to legal aid?

Tessa Mayes
investigative journalist; director, The Queen & Us

Peter Hughman
leading criminal lawyer, Hughmans solicitors; author, Just How Just?

Luke Gittos
solicitor, Hughmans Solicitors; legal editor, spiked; convenor, London Legal Salon

Produced by
Luke Gittos solicitor, Hughmans Solicitors; legal editor, spiked; convenor, London Legal Salon
Adelah Bilal sixth form student; legal researcher
Recommended readings
George Osborne takes spending axe to prisons and legal aid

Leaked documents show Ministry of Justice will lose 30% of budget in comprehensive spending review

Toby Helm, Anushka Asthana and Mark Townsend, Guardian, 16 October 2010

Legal aid delivers justice; kind lawyers won't

Legal aid helps the vulnerable and protects civil liberties. If cut, the gap will not be filled by lawyers working for free

Afua Hirsch, Guardian, 14 October 2010

Fatal consequences of legal aid changes

The change of law which forced the charity Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ) into administration can be linked quite directly to Osman's suicide.

Matthew Butcher, Guardian, 6 August 2010

Lock up fewer criminals to save money, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke suggests

Fewer criminals could be locked after a review of judges’ sentencing rules, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has suggested.

Christopher Hope, Daily Telegraph, 14 June 2010

Cuts to legal aid

We are committed to a 3 point agenda which should enable the Ministry to deliver such cuts as it has to, but which will ensure a high level of access to justice for those who need it.

The Johnson Partnership, 27 May 2010

Legal aid development under New Labour

In this article Steve Hynes, LAG’s director, discusses the development of legal aid policy in the early years of the current government. The article draws on material in LAG’s latest book on legal aid policy, The Justice Gap: whatever happened to legal aid?

Steve Hynes, Legal Action Group, August 2009

The Justice Gap: whatever happened to legal aid?

On 30 July 1949, the Legal Aid and Advice Act was granted royal assent with the intention of ensuring that anyone who needed legal advice would be able to access it. In this timely book the authors describe the origins and history of legal aid as well as New Labour’s attempts to reform the system years on. They argue that on its 60th anniversary legal aid has fallen short of its original aims.

Steve Hynes and Jon Robins, Legal Action Group, 1 April 2009

More than 3,600 new offences under Labour

The Government has created more than 3,600 new criminal offences since it won power 11 years ago – almost one for every day it has been in office.

Nigel Morris, Independent, 4 September 2008

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