The legal aid cuts are just the beginning of a move towards a fully privatised criminal justice system

The privatisation of legal proceedings in the US has led to untold miscarriages of justice - and now it's coming to a town near you

Share
Related Topics

Yesterday, lawyers from across the country gathered outside the Houses of Parliament to protest the Government’s proposals to privatise our criminal justice system. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling launched a public consultation on Government proposals to introduce price-competitive tendering for criminal legal aid work, which is open until 4 June 2013.

Under the proposals solicitors firms will bid for legal aid contracts in criminal work against leading competitors such as haulage firm Eddie Stobart and supermarket chains who aim to establish a legal arm to their business enterprise in pursuit of commercial gains. The Government will give contracts to the lowest bidders in an attempt to save £220 million per year by 2018 at the expense of justice. Price competitive tendering is part of the Government’s ultimate aim to privatise our criminal justice system.

The UK are following America’s neo-liberal economic model by privatising the criminal justice system in pursuit of profit. We only have to consider the result of price competition in criminal cases in the US to understand that privatised justice will be the death of justice for all. The US spearheaded low-bid contracts for legal services to ensure poor or needy defendants were represented. Different states implemented different forms of price competition for legal services. Although, some states, notably California, simply give contracts to the lowest bidder.

When a justice system is sold to the lowest bidder, justice no longer functions. America’s legal system highlights that a system sold to low bidders churns out poor representation resulting in miscarriages of justice. Take the example of Gary Nelson’s lawyer who represented him on a capital murder charge. Nelson’s lawyer had never tried a capital murder case and was paid less than $20 per hour. His closing argument was 255 words long. Nelson was convicted.

Nelson’s legal representative was not equipped to defend him nor any other defendant charged with serious criminal offences. Fortunately Nelson was later exonerated and released by a lawyer who had the experience, fortitude and money to ensure justice was done. Nelson was lucky. Many other defendants have been convicted of crimes they have not committed – convictions that would never have been upheld if they had access to meaningful representation, fair legal proceedings and above all, justice.

Research conducted by Meredith Nelson on low-bid contracts in America found that defendants represented by contracted lawyers are far more likely to plead guilty at first court appearances. There is an undeniable incentive for lawyers to encourage innocent individuals to plead guilty when lawyers make a living from 70 per cent of their clients pleading guilty at first instance.

In contrast, trials take considerably longer, and lawyers in America are paid poorly (or not at all) to conduct preparatory or investigative work in readiness for trials, which they may have little to no experience of. As a barrister, I am concerned that lawyers in England will soon have vested interests in persuading defendants to plead guilty. Under Grayling’s proposals lawyers will be paid the same fee for guilty pleas, which take an average of one minute, as for trials, which can last anywhere from a day to several weeks.

What’s more there is a clear conflict of interest when the same private contractor responsible for imprisoning defendants will also be responsible for representing them. Take G4S as an example: if G4S won a contract for criminal legal aid, they would be responsible for representing defendants in court. And once the defendants have pleaded guilty or are found guilty, G4S will then be responsible for securing the defendants (it once sought to represent) safely behind bars. Apparent vested interests will cause real concern that financial rewards are an incentive to ensure imprisonment rather than a fair trial at the expense of justice.

Lawyers across the country eagerly await the results of Grayling’s consultation. But whatever the Government’s final decision is, we know that it will follow America’s privatised justice system in one way of another. Whether we follow the Californian model for procurement of criminal legal aid services currently proposed by Grayling, or another state, ultimately our system is heading the same way as America.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there