The current Coalition's cutbacks on legal aid mean thousands of people ripped off by scamsters may not be able to expect justice any more, after a landmark fraud case was scrapped this week.
Last summer I reported that eight men had been charged with fraud and other financial crimes relating to a land-banking scam dating back to 2008. They included a solicitor, Dale Walker, of Sevenoaks in Kent, who was charged with money laundering as well as fraud. The others charged were Scott Crawley, Daniel Forsyth, Ross Peters, Aaron Petrou, Ricky Mitchie, Adam Hawkins and Brendan Daley, with Mr Forsyth also being charged with providing false information.
Their arrest followed an investigation by the City watchdog – now called the Financial Conduct Authority – which spent years investigating the alleged scam.
Fraudulent land-banking schemes have caught out tens of thousands of investors, who are offered the chance to snap up plots of undeveloped land in the expectation that they would be sold on to a supermarket or similar at a massive profit. Most of the deals were built on promises of future planning permission that never materialised, leaving investors with practically worthless plots of land, often in areas of natural beauty or historical interest, with little chance of it being built on.
As far as I know, such scams have been consigned to history by the crackdown, but victims still expect to see justice for those alleged to have pocketed millions from unsuspecting investors.
But on Thursday a judge at Southwark Crown Court threw out the case against five of the accused in an alleged £5m scam because, he said, they would not be given a fair trial as they couldn't get proper legal representation. The Ministry of Justice said: "Barristers have refused to work on this case – and a number of other very high cost court cases – because they do not agree with savings the Government is making to legal aid."
The Government's attempts to cut the cost of legal proceedings in effect means complex cases – which almost all fraud ones are – may never get to trial. That's clearly no justice – especially for the victims of fraud.