In 2006/2007, the governments own statistics show that over 13 million of our population were considered to be living below the poverty line although this figure is rising at a rate of around 1 million every 2 years. (For single adults you are considered to be living below the poverty line if your income is less than 60% of average which is around £112 per week or just under £6000 per year) Most of these still have an income above which they will be required to fund their own legal expenses given that only single unemployed people with no dependents fall short of the £3398 benchmark with a benefits income of around £3328. Put quite simply if you have a child you are not entitled to legal aid in full.
Effectively this means that with the exception of homeless unemployed benefits people there effectively is not a single person in this country which would be entitled to 100% legal aid funding. If a person fails to provide their proportion of legal expenses they could face losing their homes in enforcement action, a move akin to the elderly in care homes being forced to sell their houses to fund their existence after a life of contributing to the very state which now denies their dignity. Once released the innocent will no longer have a home to live in, families will be torn apart further than they are already by the justice system and the state will ultimately have to pay for the damage it has reaped as a result.
Clearly with over 13 million of the affected population living in what is already considered to be poverty, the refusal to fund any legal representation in full will result in either their poverty being compounded or their legal representation restricted. Both of which are a breach of any socially acceptable standard in any developed country in the 21st century not least one which ratified the ECHR which this latest move so defiantly and blatantly ignores.
Article 6 Paragraph 3c.
“Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:
(c) to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require;”
The only foreseeable outcome of this is that many more will be wrongly convicted of crimes since they will through the denial of adequate legal representation be unable to prove their innocence against a financially unrestricted prosecution procedure.
It naturally follows that there will be more appeals lodged on the legal grounds of not being provided with an adequate defence, which in turn will result in compensation being issued by the government through Article 5’s enforceable compensation requirements. Worse than that even the genuinely guilty would be entitled to the same and could be wrongly released (Look out for more incidents similar to the recent murders of two French Students).
My suggestion? Solicitors up and down the country should unite until this decision is reversed offering their services for appeals on a pro-bono basis receiving a percentage of the enforceable compensation awards. In this way, ultimately the state will be required to pay out more as a result of this ill-conceived and morally wrong ruling implemented against the advice of those they paid to advise them.
Billy Middleton is the founder of http://www.wronglyaccusedperson.org.uk, supporting and assisting the wrongly accused and their families to cope with the situation they find themselves in.