Severe cuts being proposed across the justice system could lead to more severe pressure on the legal aid system – which is already groaning under the weight of changes imposed earlier this year.
Cash shortages which have appeared across the public sector as the credit crunch starts to bite could see as many as 10,000 people lose their jobs across the legal sector.
As inflation rises and cash dries up to the treasury, the government is demanding that the Ministry of Justice save more then £900 million over the next two years.
Savings measures include the loss of 9,891 jobs in the prison, probation and court services – more than a tenth of the workforce – with one in three coming through redundancies. Over 3,000 of these will come directly from the courts.
These cuts will come alongside a total freeze on new recruits or the use of agency workers.
There are also plans to charge immigrants for their own deportation appeal hearings and to halve the legal representation at court hearings over the future of children.
Judges themselves have spoken out against the cost-recuperation programmes being pushed by Jack Straw, but current planning indicates that up to £46 million is expected to come from charging migrants – who have often been barred from finding work to pay for such hearings.
Severe cuts are expected in the prison service, where 3,000 jobs could go despite plans to expand the sector with the introduction of new Titan jails, and in the probation service 1,320 jobs could be axed.
Such widespread cuts would be likely to significantly undermine the right to a fair hearing, forcing the remaining court system – around 100 courts could close altogether – to rush through legal processes, cut back on jury hearings and significantly increase the risk of miscarriages of justice.
The news comes in the same year as a raft of controversial measures were pushed through restricting the number of people who could access legal aid and implementing legal advice call-centres to reduce costs.
The changes, which happened in January, also heralded the introduction of flat fees for legal aid cases, cutting the number of laywers prepared to work the cases and the amount of work they were prepared to put in.
The flat fees effectively mean that lawyers get paid the same for a ten-minute case as they do for a six-month one, hugely undermining support in the event of a complex legal battle.
Lawyers are now entirely unavailable if you’re arrested for any of the following; breach of bail, breach of court injunction, Breach of the Peace, Drunk and Disorderly, Fare evasion or having warrants out for your arrest – you’ll get one phone call to the Criminal Defence Call Centre.
You are only allowed to call your own solicitor if you pay privately.
This article first appeared in Freedom newspaper – www.freedompress.org.uk
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This post was written by Rob Ray