“Savage” legal aid cuts will lead to closure of firms, says Grantham solicitor

Chris Pye-Smith of Bird & Co in Castlegate, Grantham. ENGEMN00120130515125415
Chris Pye-Smith of Bird & Co in Castlegate, Grantham. ENGEMN00120130515125415
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A Grantham solicitor says legal aid cuts by the Government will force the closure of many firms.

Chris Pye-Smith, of Bird and Co solicitors, took part in a protest march in London on Friday with colleague Stuart Wild. Thousands of solicitors and barristers took to the streets to protest against the cuts outside the Houses of Parliament. A number of speakers addressed the protest and an effigy of the Lord Chancellor and Justice Minister Chris Grayling was carried by protesters. They then marched on to the Ministry of Justice.

Mr Pye-Smith said: “The savage cuts announced will decimate the provision of legal aid leading to the closure of many established firms of solicitors. Many people rely on legal aid now or may need to one day in the future. Many people have already been frozen out of legal aid in the Family Courts and the Family Court system is now in disarray as a result. People will be affected further as the slashing of criminal legal aid funding will quickly lead to cheap, inexperienced lawyers, often based miles away, who will be forced to move from one case to another at breakneck speed. People will be processed, not defended.”

The Government is set to introduce the cuts from April in an effort to save £220m from the £2bn annual cost of legal aid.

Mr Pye-Smith added: “The quality of our Criminal Justice System is already suffering owing to cuts in police, prosecution and defence budgets. This further round of cuts will lead to the innocent being jailed and the guilty walking free because of the inevitable loss of the skilled lawyers who both defend and prosecute cases day in and day out throughout England and Wales.

“Mr Grayling, the Lord Chancellor, has announced that the county of Lincolnshire, where I practise for example, will be covered by just five duty solicitor firms. There are currently ten such firms. However most areas of the country will see the numbers of firms more than halved.

“Five firms in Lincolnshire who fail to obtain duty solicitor contracts will quickly wither away with significant redundancies of lawyers and support staff. These are local small and medium locally-owned businesses who pay taxes to the exchequer. Their staff pay tax and NI and spend their income locally providing wider employment of others in the region. It is utter madness to throw these people out of jobs. The wider financial cost has not even been considered by the Minister whose sole interest is cutting the expenditure of his department, ignoring the burden it creates on any other budget. It is the worst sort of non ‘joined-up’ Government that ultimately costs much more more than it saves. However, the Minister will look very good in the eyes of the Treasury and he probably will be gone from his post before the full devastation has occurred leaving the next incumbent to sort out the mess.

“The extraordinary Ministry of Justice propaganda we have seen over the last twelve months has tried to convince the media that this country spends more on legal aid than all other countries. This is untrue. According to the National Audit Office statistics, the expenditure in England and Wales is average in comparison with other countries which spend more on Judges and Civil Servants investigating and developing the defence case. In fact the expenditure in this jurisdiction is now falling below the average.

“If you are unfortunate enough to be the subject of a state funded investigation or prosecution then your character and your liberty are at stake and the quality of your representation is very important to you. However if you are a prosecution witness then you also want justice to be done by the presentation of the prosecution case by a competent and sufficiently experienced lawyer, do you not? This is what we want too.

“To have an effective justice system you need to fund it adequately all round. What is to be implemented starting later this month is wholly inadequate funding of the defence.

“Lawyers are proud to be a major part of a criminal justice system that has until now been held in high regard across the globe. It is the quality and reputation of that system which is now not merely at risk but whose demise is forecast by those of us who are in the know.

“Thousands of consultation responses have told the Government all of the above but the Minister, Chris Grayling, proceeds with the cuts undeterred and apparently unashamed.

“We are not at court because we are fighting for Justice. We are not ashamed to do so but we are ashamed, incredulous, outraged and angry that a ‘Lord Chancellor’ can hold the system in such low regard.

“We would encourage people to contact Mr Grayling at the Ministry of Justice and to contact your own MP demanding that the cuts be halted pending a full review of their impact on the justice system and of the alternative proposals that have been put forward by lawyers to make savings in the system.”