Concerns over the latest round of legal aid cuts hit the headlines once again this week with the news that a high profile fraud trial had to be halted due to the defendant not being able to afford the barristers' fees.
The case was once more in the news due to the prosecutors, the Financial Conduct Authority, fighting to overturn a ruling allowing the trial to be halted. This went directly against the views of the judge, Anthony Leonard, who said that allowing the case to proceed was a violation of the British legal process.
While it is quite unusual to see legal aid referred to at such a high level, this standoff over the legal aid fees shows yet again how wide the impact of the cuts to legal aid are and how they are affecting both civil and criminal cases.
Legal aid for both criminal and civil cases was slashed by £2bn a year following the Government's publication of the LASPO bill. Many solicitors are under pressure to charge less for their services whilst barristers have been refusing to take on those complex cases which can quickly rack up high costs, due to the time involved for both preparation and court appearances.
This headline making case; the Financial Conduct Authority vs. Plott UK Ltd, is one of those classed as a VHCC, or Very High Cost Case. This is due to the fact that specialist legal representation is needed on both sides. Cases such as these can be both lengthy and extremely complex and require the presence of the most experienced and senior barristers in the court room.
The majority of those cases which are affected by the legal aid cuts are considered to be a lot less newsworthy but to those involved they are every bit as important as this headline making fraud trial. These 'lesser' cases involve such issues which are of fundamental importance to a civilised society and include such matters as family, liberty, education and housing, as well as civil claims.
The Judiciary have now also added their bit into the debate through their suggestion that the current lack of legal support is leading to an influx of weaker claims being filed, which are in turn clogging up our legal system. The latest cuts are generally considered to be a false economy as although the legal aid budget has been reduced, court costs are rising sharply due to the increased burden on administrative staff.
Cute Injury is constantly fighting to try and ensure that vulnerable accident victims have the access to justice they are entitled to. This is why now, more than ever, it is vital that a transparent and properly delivered No Win No Fee* service is widely available. This is due to the effective dismantling of the legal aid support that was once in place for those who suffered injuries through no fault of their own.
With this high profile case receiving national new coverage and shining a light on the flaws of the latest government reforms. It is also clear that if the proposed programme continues unchecked, the erosion of both criminal and civil rights will leave literally leave hundreds of thousands of innocent victims without the representation they need to get the justice they deserve.
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