More than two-thirds of British people believe that the innocent will be convicted of crimes they did not commit if there are cuts to criminal legal aid, according to a poll.
Three-quarters of those interviewed were convinced it was the poorest that would be hit hardest by the proposed changes. The results of the ComRes poll for the Bar Council come ahead of a protest by hundreds of barristers and solicitors – including the former Blur drummer David Rowntree – outside Downing Street tomorrow.
The Government is currently consulting on proposed changes to criminal legal aid. People would lose their right to choose their own lawyer and work would be put out to competitive tendering where the lowest bidders would win, regardless of their experience.
In stark contrast to the Government’s claims that the legal aid system has lost credibility with the public, the poll found that 71 per cent were concerned that cuts to legal aid could lead to the innocent being convicted of crimes.
Two-thirds of the public agreed that legal aid was a price worth paying for living in a fair society, while 83 per cent believed that people accused of a crime should be treated as innocent until proven guilty.
Two-thirds also agreed that at less than 0.5 per cent of annual government spending, legal aid was a worthwhile investment in our basic freedoms. “This poll provides the evidence which the Government has failed to gather. The public hugely values our legal aid system and it is concerned about the consequences of the Government’s proposals,” said Maura McGowan QC, chairman of the Bar Council. She added: “The Ministry of Justice should listen to what people are saying and the strong messages delivered by this poll.”