Leading article: Misplaced means-testing

Share

A Government intent on austerity would rightly conclude that there is no reason it should pay the legal bills of the rich. But the move to limit the provision of free legal representation to those who have been arrested and can prove they can't afford their own solicitor, is a very bad one.

Someone arrested and detained for questioning is in a peculiarly vulnerable position. They face, at the very least, a major disruption to their lives – or at worst, a permanent loss of liberty. Those who have never before undergone such an ordeal are often unable to think clearly or respond in an appropriate manner. Access to a lawyer at such a time should be a fundamental right.

But Clause 12 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, voted through by Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs this week, gives the Government the power to introduce regulations to means-test such access. An arrested person needs a lawyer to discuss their arrest and the gravity of the charges laid against them. They do not want at their first meeting their solicitor to ask them how they are going to pay. Means-testing for legal bills might be a reasonable proposal later in the proceedings. But for those first two hours at the police station, access to a solicitor should be an automatic right.

Ministers may insist they are not actually proposing means-testing, only introducing "flexibility to make regulations to apply means-testing if it were considered appropriate to do so in the future". But if something is a bad idea now, while the full scrutiny of Parliament is upon it, it will be an equally bad idea when a future minister quietly introduces regulations to implement it. Nor is it reassuring that it will be the newly created Director of Legal Aid who will decide on who gets a free lawyer "having regard to the interests of justice". The interests of justice are clear enough. That is why the present system was introduced 25 years ago following a series of abuses by the West Midlands and Metropolitan police forces in the 1970s and 80s that led to grave miscarriages of justice. The automatic right to a solicitor is a bulwark against the possibility of police abusing their power. Clause 12 should be thrown out at the next reading of this Bill.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album