Legal Aid Cuts
These reforms are socially divisive, self-defeating and undermine the justice system
The cutbacks to legal aid and reduced funding to national forensic science capability are appalling. Criminal solicitors now find it uneconomical to attend police stations and complete investigations. For the justice secretary to suggest that City commercial law firms can bridge the gap via “pro bono” efforts and have the expertise to conduct criminal work is absurd.
Legal aid cuts often result in critical forensic work not being conducted. Cutbacks result in crucial details becoming lost along the line; defendants may be wrongly convicted because forensic analysis isn’t undertaken or scientific evidence isn’t presented in a fair and balanced way.
Cutbacks in universities and the NHS have resulted in fewer qualified experts available for work in the criminal courts. Solicitors search for experts, tempting generalists to speak beyond their expertise — delaying trials, increasing costs and undermining confidence.
The biggest losers are those facing criminal charges, perhaps unjustly. Legal representation is becoming a privilege of the wealthy. Increasing numbers of defendants conducting their own defence leads to exponential increases in costs, further burdening campaigning organisations such as Justice.
These reforms are socially divisive, self-defeating and undermine the justice system; they will soon be recognised for what they are.
Robert TJ Brown, president of the executive council of the British Academy of Forensic Sciences;
Dr Denise Syndercombe-Court, secretary general of the council;
Professor Sir Colin Berry, past president of the council;
Tracy Alexander, director of forensic services, City of London Police;
Professor Michael Kopelman, emeritus professor of neuropsychiatry, King’s College London;
Professor Nigel Eastman, emeritus professor of law and ethics in psychiatry, St George’s University of London;
Professor Robert Flanagan, past president of King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust;
Professor Bob Peckitt;
Professor Peter Vanezis;
Dr Meng Aw-Yong, consultant forensic psychiatrist and forensic physician;
Kristiina Reed, barrister;
Christiana Hayward-Kourabas, solicitor;
Read the original letter published in The Times here.