Right of Reply: The Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association responds to an article by Lord Irvine in last week's legal section

WHEN THIS newspaper scooped its competitors late last year with an exclusive about the Government's plans to set up a controversial Criminal Defence Service, the proposal was greeted with a universal raspberry. This week the plan was thrown out by cross-party Peers in the Lords.

With good reason: the evidence from the United States of salaried public defenders is chilling. Research shows that as state control increases, lawyers fight shy of fearlessly asserting their client's case.

The justice system becomes geared to administrative convenience and cost-cutting. This leads to a second-rate system of justice, a culture of uncontested cases and plea-bargaining, where criminals are treated leniently, and the innocent are punished for fear of a more severe sentence.

Worst of all, the justice system can become a tool of the state, capable of being used cynically by the authorities to control socially excluded communities at the margins of society.

The Lord Chancellor's objectives for this US import remained confused: on the one hand the CDS will provide a benchmark for costs; on the other it will fill-in gaps in provision, creating locum lawyers in rural areas or the inner cities. Then he talks of "incremental changes" and "piloting schemes". He needs to come clean on his real intention.

Lord Irvine says he wants to control costs. We agree. After considerable work by the Bar Council, we are moving to a system where all barristers' fees in criminal cases are fixed in advance by the Government. We welcome that: what we want is cost control not state control.

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