Anger at Coalition's plan to limit right to legal aid

The Government plans to remove the "fundamental right" to free legal advice for people held in police custody – 27 years after it was introduced to stop miscarriages of justice.

Coalition MPs have voted through one of the most controversial sections of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill which would restrict access to legal advice for criminal suspects. Clause 12 paves the way for secondary legislation to introduce means testing for legal advice for those held in a police station. It would also see the director of legal aid, a post which does not yet exist, decide which detainees deserve legal aid in the "interest of justice" without any right to appeal.

It is part of sweeping changes which aim to cut the legal aid bill by a fifth. Legal campaigners argue clause 12 encroaches on civil liberties and will tarnish the reputation of Britain's justice system. The right to free legal advice was enshrined in the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act after a swathe of miscarriages of justice involving the fabrication of confessions and intimidation of suspects by police in the 70s and early 80s.

The introduction of the duty solicitor scheme, funded at a flat rate by legal aid, enhanced the international reputation of our justice system.

MPs, lawyers and civil liberty groups have condemned the cost-cutting plans as an "erosion of justice" and warn that it will deprive society's most disadvantaged people access to a lawyer. Substantial hidden costs could follow as a result of delays for police while means testing occurs, domestic and European legal challenges and more cases being thrown out of court, they warn. Means testing at the police station is "simply unworkable", insists the Law Society.

Max Hill, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said the Government was meddling with a "fundamental right". "To contemplate some sort of qualitative testing to decide when and if a member of the public should receive legal representation and advice in a police station is deeply alarming."

Andy Slaughter, Shadow Justice Minister, said: "Why the Lib Dems, who claim to be the champions of civil liberties, support this is baffling."

Tom Brake, Lib Dem committee member, last night said he had raised the matter with the Justice Minister, Ken Clarke, and defended his decision to vote through the clause. "We are in the Coalition and raising the matter directly with the minister may be more effective at securing changes in legislation than supporting an opposition amendment."

Opposition MPs are angry that the committee has been given seven days, or 40 hours, to scrutinise the 187-page Bill which includes significant constitutional changes. There was no public consultation about Clause 12 and secondary legislation requires only minimal parliamentary scrutiny, warns Rachel Robinson, policy officer for Liberty, who warns this was one of several proposed legal aid reforms which would "devastate access to justice for great swathes of the population". A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "The provision in the Bill to permit means testing ensures future flexibility over the operation of the legal aid system should it be needed. There are no plans to make any changes at this time".

Miscarriages of justice

* An official inquiry into a swath of miscarriages of justice in the 1970s and 1980s paved the way for the legal right to a lawyer for detainees in police custody in 1984.

The Birmingham Six were jailed for life in 1975 for pub bombings. The convictions were overturned in 1991 after evidence of police fabrication of confessions and suppression of evidence. The Guildford Four were convicted of a bombing in the same year. The conviction was secured on confessions as a result of coercion, violence and threats by police. Acquitted in 1989. Stefan Kiszko wrongly served 16 years for rape and murder in 1975. He confessed to police after three days of questioning without a solicitor.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
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

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York