Vincents joins national Legal Aid protest

Lancashire’s Vincents Solicitors is to boycott Crown Court Legal Aid work as part of a national protest against government cuts.

The firm which has one of the county’s largest criminal practices, is backing the stance of other firms across the UK in aiming to highlight the chaos further cutbacks could cause.

Government investment in Legal Aid provision has seen the funding, which is provided to people who can not afford their own solicitor, cut twice in the last 15 months. The latest 8.75 per cent cut on July 1 takes reductions over the last 20 years to 27 per cent.

There are fears that people accused of a crime could be left without adequate representation, as smaller firms would no longer be able to afford to undertake Legal Aid work and larger firms may struggle to attract new entrants into criminal law. A shortage of Legal Aid lawyers could lead to the accused having to consider whether fighting a case was financially viable, rather than on the basis of whether they were innocent or had a winnable case.

Trevor Colebourne, Vincents’ head of criminal law, said the system is already on the verge of collapse and further cuts could take it over the edge. He said: “Everyone is entitled to legal representation, regardless of their ability to pay. This is a fundamental principle of British justice. And that representation should be provided by a qualified, experienced lawyer who has the skills and expertise to understand and work within the UK’s complex legal system.

“That ideal is sadly under threat as the Government makes and proposes further cuts to its Legal Aid funding, in fact the service is dangerously close to breaking down. Law firms who undertake Legal Aid work have to provide a 24/7 service yet the money to pay for that service continues to be reduced. The risk is that it becomes unviable for some firms to continue to take on such cases or they face going under.

“There’s also the impact upon recruitment, no one would be surprised if many junior lawyers chose to go into other more lucrative areas of practice. As the older lawyers retire and younger ones select other options, the pool of talent is diminished. The remaining practitioners are overworked and underpaid, and less skilled juniors will be drafted in to fill the gaps. And who wants the overworked, underpaid, less experienced lawyer representing their interests when their very liberty may be at stake?”

Law firms across the UK are taking action in a bid to encourage a rethink by the Ministry of Justice, which is set to impose another cut in January 2016, and prevent the creation of a “two-tier” system of justice where only those able to afford a lawyer can defend themselves.

Firms taking action will not represent clients in Legal Aid cases at Crown Court for the duration of the protest. Mr Colebourne added: “Vincents has decided to support this protest because everyone - especially the innocent, children and the vulnerable - is entitled to a fair trial and this usually means representation from a skilled lawyer. The criminal justice system must be organised and funded to make sure this happens. “We hope that our clients will understand why we are making this protest. This issue is so important for the future, for everyone who wants to live in a country where the rights of the individual to fair justice are treated with respect.”