There are calls for an urgent review into state funding of the criminal justice system after a report from the Commons Justice Committee, who say there’s a risk of eroding rights to legal advice and representation.
The group of MPs has called on the Government to launch an independent review, saying that years of reform to criminal legal aid could “tarnish the reputation of our justice system, and undermine the rule of law.”
What’s This All About?
The Rule of Law is at the very heart of the British legal system. If a society is governed by the Rule of Law, no one is above the law. Regardless if someone is a politician, law enforcer or an everyday citizen, the law is applied equally and fairly to all.
An essential part of this is that everyone, regardless of their status or wealth, should have access to justice so that the law can be applied equally and fairly.
Legal aid is one way to help ensure that this happens. By providing legal assistance to people who could not otherwise afford it, the government increases the access that everyone in society has to justice and moves towards equality before the law.
‘Eroding Public Confidence’
Cuts to criminal legal aid have led to an increase in the number of people who have faced criminal charges without legal representation. Along with being an essential part of the Rule of Law, the right to legal representation is also included in Article 6 of the Human Rights Convention, which ensures that everyone has a fair trial when charged with a crime.
According to a 2017 survey, 94 percent of magistrates believe that having people in court without lawyers can have a negative impact on the effectiveness of the court process.
Robert Neill MP, Chair of the Justice Committee. Image Credit: UK Parliament
This is something the Justice Committee highlighted in the recent report, stating that the current situation of cuts to legal aid are “casting a long shadow” over the rule of law, and “eroding public confidence in the ability of our justice system to ensure that offences are prosecuted, and that the guilty are convicted and the innocent acquitted.”
The report now calls on the government to launch a “comprehensive and independent review” to devise “a scheme that is sustainable”. They say that the review should have “the ultimate aim” of restoring resources “to a level that enables the system to operate effectively”.
A similar independent review was recently conducted into the provision of legal aid in Scotland.
This review gave 67 recommendations to ensure that Scotland’s legal aid system is simpler, user-focused and more flexible – as well as sustainable and cost-effective.