Fears over impact of legal aid cuts on Islington residents

Emily Thornberry would have lost her seat under the AV system

Emily Thornberry would have lost her seat under the AV system - Credit: Archant

One of the country’s top legal advisors has warned a proposed cut of £500million to the legal aid budget could land innocent people in jail.

Catherine at a protest (name to follow)

Catherine at a protest (name to follow) - Credit: Archant

Emily Thornberry, MP for Islington South as well as shadow attorney general, spoke out against the Government’s plans during an emergency meeting at Islington Town Hall, in Upper Street, last week.

Under the new scheme, around half a billion pounds would be slashed from legal aid –a fund set up to enable even the poorest in society to have good representation in court.

While everyone will still be entitled to legal representation, critics say lawyers and solicitors will be allocated on the basis of who is cheapest, rather then who is best for the job – sparking fears of miscarriages of justice and those wrongly accused ending up in prison.

Ms Thornberry said: “Good lawyers get a good reputation by working hard, so people want to go to them. Under these plans big companies like [haulage firm] Eddie Stobart and [supermarket] Tesco will provide the service. Legal aid will be based on cost and cutting corners.

“It’s really unfair. It can happen to anyone – they can be falsely arrested and not defended properly. And some people who get arrested are not that articulate, often on the edges of society and really need good representation.

“Legal aid is not a good place to make cuts. This country is based on the idea that its a fair society. It’s part of structure of our county. These cuts go against the British instinct for fairness.

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“They will lead to more miscarriages of justice and people getting locked up for things they haven’t done.”

Islington council leader Cllr Catherine West has joined various demonstrations outside Parliament one of which was part-organised by Independent Cllr Greg Foxsmith, a criminal defence lawyer.

Meanwhile councillors from all parties are expected to pass a motion opposing the cuts at the next full council meeting on June 27.

Cllr Foxsmtih said: “We need to oppose these cuts because if their are in fact any savings, and that is a moot point, there will be greater expenditure elsewhere and local authorities will pick up the tab.

“If people don’t have proper representation they will turn to councils for help and advice, or places like the citizens advice bureau, which is part funded by Islington Council.

“And if people are wrongly imprisoned, councils will pick up the tab of re-housing them.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said all defence lawyers would still meet their standards, while wealthy defendants would have to pay for their own representation.

She added: “We have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world, with about £1 billion a year spent just on criminal legal aid. These changes are about getting the best value for the taxpayer, and will not in any way affect someone’s right to a fair trial.”

Cllr Foxmith is urging people to sign a petition against the cuts, visit: https://submissions.epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628