Legal aid changes 'will lead to convictions of innocent'

 

The Government’s planned changes to legal aid increase the likelihood of innocent people going to prison, according to the body that investigates miscarriages of justice.

Vulnerable or mentally ill suspects could face a greater risk of conviction because experienced lawyers would not be available to expose false confessions, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) warned in its response to the proposals.

It expressed concerns that the Government’s planned £220m cuts to the legal aid bill could undermine the ability of lawyers to prevent miscarriages of justice and land the taxpayer with significant sums in trying to put them right.

The response is just the latest critical response to the Government’s plans to prevent suspects from choosing their own solicitor and cuts in lawyers’ fees. It comes after the Government’s own lawyers last week criticised the changes saying that it would create an underclass in Britain with no access to justice.

The view of the CCRC – with the responsibility of scrutinising cases where the justice system has gone wrong – is likely to be seized on by opponents to the Government plans. The CCRC has examined nearly 15,000 cases since it was set up in 1997 and convictions in 328 of those cases have been quashed by the Court of Appeal.

It said the cost of identifying potential miscarriages was much lower if a good solicitor was able to spot it before it resulted in a conviction. “Fair access to high-quality legal representation is an essential feature of the criminal justice system and a bulwark against wrongful or unsafe convictions,” it said.

Preventing miscarriages relied on solicitors having the time to examine and investigate the case. “Any proposals that risk a diminution in the quality of representation, whether in terms of experience or specialist knowledge, will inevitably impact on these areas, which are the corners of a fair trial,” he said.

It highlighted the role of skilful solicitors in identifying files that had not been handed over by the prosecution that could help prove their client’s innocence. The failure of the process known as disclosure is behind many quashed convictions.

“Our experience has shown that the failure of a defence lawyer to examine such material increases the risk of a miscarriage of justice, and anything which might discourage or prevent proper consideration of such material would clearly further enhance that risk,” said the CCRC in its document.

The CCRC handled the case of Warren Blackwell whose conviction for rape was quashed in 2006 after it emerged his accuser had concocted a number of false allegations against other men. However, his legal team at the original trial were never passed notes made by the investigating officer that suggested his accuser was “unstable” and “unreliable”. He served three years in prison.

The body also said the government’s plans did not go far enough to ensure that mentally ill offenders were represented by expert solicitors, who could prevent miscarriages of justice. It warned that “easily suggestible” suspects could make false confessions that would see them falsely imprisoned.

It was also involved in the case of Peter Fell, whose conviction for the 1982 murders of two women was quashed in 2001 after it emerged that his part-confession – swiftly retracted – was made after 54 hours in detention and without any legal representation. The Court of Appeal in 2001 found that the pressure grew on former soldier Mr Fell “until it became overwhelming.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said Britain spent £1 billion a year on criminal legal aid and the sector should not be immune to cuts.

“Professional, qualified lawyers will be available, just as they are now, and contracts will only be awarded to lawyers who meet clear quality standards,” it said. “These changes are about getting the best value for the taxpayer, and will not in any way affect someone's right to a fair trial."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee