One of the main concerns raised following the cuts to Legal aid has been that parties in both criminal and civil proceedings will end up having to represent themselves in court. The impact of this is already being felt across the courts system.
Family Courts are reporting a steep rise in the umbers who are representing themselves.
This in turn leads to long delays. Most lawyers and judges agree that a case involving Litigants in Person will normally take twice the time of one where the parties have lawyers. It can also lead to outrageous consequences for those parties. One victim of rape was recently, on the verge of being cross-examined by her attacker who did not have legal aid. Legal Aid was only granted following the threat of Judicial Review Proceedings against the Legal Aid Agency.
But the most embarrassing moment for the government has to be the Crown Court decision in Southwark today. This was a major fraud trial involving eight defendants. Due to the recent cuts in Legal Aid the Defendants were unable to get suitable legal representation for their Trial. It was argued, on their behalf that they would not get a fair trial. The Judge agreed and halted the Trial. He accepted that substantial efforts had been made to find a barrister to represent them. He said that it would be a violation of the legal process if they had to represent themselves.
To deprive someone of legal representation is indeed a violation of our rights as citizens.
What is embarrassing for the Ministry of Justice is that the application to halt the trial was made by Alex Cameron QC – the brother of our own PM, who was acting free of charge. He told the court –
"The state has failed to provide adequate representation to allow the trial to take place…a stay is exceptional, but so is lack of representation in this country. We are worried about a fair trial. It's not the fault of the FCA but we do [blame] the state more widely."
Will these words of reason from a source close to home lead to a change of heart by the government?
Who knows? But it certainly raises a further question mark over the future of Minister of Justice Chris Grayling who has simply got it wrong and refuses to admit it.
Maybe another member of the Cameron family will decide that enough is enough.