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Stoke Newington Chambers

Legal Aid & the Myth of Doing More with Less

Oh look! The Daily Mail have just run another hit piece on the legal profession.

The Mail states:

Despite strikes by barristers over their pay levels and protests from senior lawyers who demand greater taxpayer subsidies, the legal profession has been booming, according to official figures.

In fact, the Mail says, “we” have “raked in” £32.2B IN ONE YEAR.

Regrettably, the Mail doesn’t seem to think its readership is very intelligent. Most people get that there are International lawyers and Mergers & Acquisitions lawyers and Property lawyers as well as Legal Aid lawyers.

I suspect most people understand that it was the LEGAL AID lawyers who suggested they should “strike” for better remuneration.

And most people get that Legal Aid lawyers have not “raked in” £32B.

Let’s get real

You want to know how much Legal Aid lawyers make for being your Defence barrister or solicitor at your Magistrates Court trial? £100 for a half-day trial, and £150 for a full day.

The average Magistrates Court trial is listed for 2.5 hours.

Woo-hoo! I hear the Fail yelp. That’s £40 per hour!

Listen to me: unless you want someone’s cross examination to consist of, “You’re wrong”, a Defendant needs his/her lawyer to THINK about why the Prosecution case does not come up to the Criminal standard of proof and PREPARE accordingly.

Each case is like a poker hand – with many cards.

Here’s how much time I spent on a “straight-forward” Criminal legal-aid case

My client was accused of sending text messages contrary to the Malicious Communications Act.

It took me about 30 minutes to read through the case papers.

It took me another 15 minutes to consider whether the CPS’s evidence met the test for Malicious Communications.

I spent 30 minutes confirming that the Crown had not complied with its Disclosure of unused material obligations – and thinking of all the things I would want to see together with all the reasons why those things were necessary for my client to have a fair trial.

I spent about 20 minutes considering and preparing my cross-examination – and I spent about 15 minutes refreshing myself on all the latest cases on what to do when the Crown isn’t ready on the day of the trial.

I spent a half hour waiting in court for the case to get called on.

I spent a further 90 minutes waiting for the Prosecution – as the Magistrates gave them three separate opportunities that morning to try to sort themselves out.

I spent about a half hour in total explaining to the Magistrates why it would be unfair for the Prosecution to proceed – despite the fact that the alleged victim was at court, and she was ready and willing to give evidence.

In the end, I spent four hours on a case which was Dismissed, which means that there was no trial. For that, I received £100. So let’s say £25 per hour GROSS.

Friends, that was a good Legal Aid day! Had the case gone ahead to a full trial, I would have worked another three hours, at least, sitting in the trial, considering the evidence as it played out in court, tailoring my cross examination and submissions accordingly and waiting for a verdict. £100 divided by 8 hours = £12.50 per hour GROSS.

Meanwhile, back at the Daily Mail ranch …

There’s a stampede of talented Legal Aid barristers and solicitors who are leaving the profession. At £12.50 per hour (or less) gross, can you blame them?

In Conservo-world, the answer is for solicitors to “streamline” their processes. Maybe “pre-populate some fields” for our frequent-flyers; we can do more for less!

Excuse me, but your life doesn’t belong on the Henry Ford assembly line. You deserve more than a, “No he didn’t/Yes he did” case theory and trial advocacy.

I suspect this Mail article is the precursor to a further round of Legal Aid cuts. Fewer and fewer experienced lawyers will be able to afford to do Legal Aid work.

If you deserve an experienced lawyer who can protect you against procedural unfairness, effectively scrutinise all of the evidence and do the talking in court, why doesn’t the other guy?

NB

90% of Criminal cases are “completed” in the Magistrates Court.

Here’s another scoop: the reason why I was able to do these things in a fairly short amount of time is due to my education and experience. Could a trainee obtain the same result? Maybe, but I suspect it would have taken them much longer to figure out their multi-front defence and to find the law in support.

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