Fears over legal aid cuts reduce sense of justice

Huhne speeding fine saga raises difficult questions about the cost of justice and who has the power to pay for it

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The Independent Online

The convictions of three powerful figures with connections to the highest levels of Government, law and business should be considered a triumph.

Despite the hiring of some of the finest legal minds in their defence, the attempted dismantling of police credibility and a vigorous public relations battle, three guilty people with a lot to lose got what they deserved.

For the three to be as high-profile as they are – former minister Chris Huhne, economist Vicky Pryce and barrister Constance Briscoe – it comes with added public humiliation.

But on the same day that the Government cited the cost of Britain’s legal system as justification for cuts to legal aid aimed at protecting some of the most vulnerable; the long drawn-out and expensive saga that stemmed from a marital dispute and a speeding fine raises difficult questions about the cost of justice and who has the power to pay for it.

In many ways, the cases of R vs Huhne and others have been anomalies. There were four trials: two for Vicky Pryce after a jury’s inexplicable inability to grasp their job, and two for Briscoe after a jury was unable to reach a verdict in the first trial.

There were numerous hearings before the trials even started that slowly unravelled the lies of Briscoe – who had been due to be the main prosecution witness in the case of Huhne and Pryce –and resulted in her later appearance in the dock.

Any satisfaction that the powerful can be called to account is tempered by concerns of legal campaigners that the poor may not get a fair run.