You’re an upstanding citizen. You’ve never been in trouble with the Police. They’re on your side. They keep you safe, and they’re there when someone makes you the victim of a crime.
Why would you ever need Legal Aid? Why should you even pay attention to any changes? Justice, that’s why. Plain and simple.
Consider this: Legal Aid is for you when you’ve been wrongly accused.
You’ve done nothing wrong. Absolutely nothing. When out of the blue you get a phone call from the police, or a knock on the door. Someone has made a vexatious complaint against you, falsely accused you of a crime, knowing that you’re not guilty. Shocking though this sounds, and craven disgraceful behaviour though it is, there are any number of reasons someone might do this. Perhaps to save face with friends and family that they’ve been lying to to make themselves look good, or to you look bad, or perhaps they’re just an attention seeker. You know the accusation is rubbish, utterly without foundation. You can’t imagine why that someone would make this complaint. You know you can show it’s nonsense but you’ve never been in trouble with the police. This is an entirely alien experience. You’re in a police station, the Police have arrested you, you’ve had your possessions taken from you and bagged up for evidence, your belt, tie, scarf and laces have been taken, too. You’re feeling dehumanised, disorientated and you just want to get out and go home.
Spare a thought now for your arresting officer. He’s been sucked in by an accomplished liar, someone who’s turned on the tears and sounded plausible. He’s dreading the paperwork. Maybe he’s dumb enough to believe to complainant. maybe he fancies her a bit, maybe he’s a friend of a friend. Maybe he knows there’s nothing of substance in the complaint, and he just wants to get this dealt with as quickly as possible. What’s the quickest way he can do that? Get you to accept a Caution, that’s what. That’ll look good on police detection statistics, his personal record, and there’s less paperwork. It’s not a stretch to imagine that sometimes a less conscientious officer might put the frighteners on you to get you to take the Caution by suggesting it’s the alternative to being remanded in custody pending trial and perhaps going to court.
So what can you do? You can choose your solicitor, based on personal recommendations, reputation, quality of service, record of success… The best person for the job. And Legal Aid will pick up the bill.
You need a solicitor you can trust. In that situation, they are your only friend. I don’t just mean in terms of understanding the legal issues, but the processes. Through a very alien and troubling experience they keep you at your ease and enable you to address the allegations against you without panicking in the face of some considerable stress and pressure. By choosing your own solicitor you can spend time before you go to the police. Your solicitor has time to spend before, during and after your interview and, crucially, their interests are to do the best job they can for you.
The proposed changes mean that you won’t get to choose. You will be appointed a solicitor after your arrest. Your solicitor is chosen for you, and has won the contract to represent you on the basis of cost alone. Yes, they’ll have met a minimum standard of competence, but they’ll be paid by the numbers. The more people they represent, the more they’ll be paid.
Their interests no longer align with yours but with the Police: To get through as many cases as possible in as short a time as they can. This is not in the interests of justice. What’s the quickest way to get through a case: It’s that Caution again. Suddenly an innocent person, unfamiliar with the process and the consequences, is going to be under pressure from both the police and the advice of their solicitor to accept that Caution. They’ll only discover the reality of the consequences later when they realise they have to declare their criminal record to a potential employer, or when they’re applying for a visa, or when they’re accused of something else in the future and discover they’re not considered to be of “Good Character”.
Remember that even though it’s not allowed, people will be offered Cautions over the phone under threat of being arrested if they don’t, under these circumstances they’ll not be told all the consequences before they agree, and it sounds like it might be an attractive option. Quick, done dusted and in the past.
Criminals, people who often come into contact with the police, people who are often in trouble and are not in this situation for the first time… they know the system, they’re not intimidated, anxious, a fish out of water. They know their rights, they know the consequences. It’s the stock in trade of the petty criminal, and hardened criminal alike.
You’re innocent, you’ve never been in this entirely alien circumstance before. You will be intimidated, dehumanised, frightened. You will be worried about the outcome. Will you be able to show you’re innocent? Will the Police give up trying to get you to take a Caution and take the next easiest route: passing the papers to the Crown Prosecution Service for charging, regardless of how empty the accusation is? These questions will prey on your mind.
You need a solicitor who is on your side, who will act entirely in your interests, not be looking for the quickest solution, but the best solution.
That’s why you need to sign this petition to Save UK Justice.
Because it protects you. You, the person who hasn’t committed a crime, has never committed a crime and has no intention of ever doing so. But You, who’s about to have some venal, spiteful, attention-seeker make a spurious complaint against you. Because although the system exists to find the truth, it’s not your system and it doesn’t work the way you think. You need a guide you can trust, and one who isn’t going to take short cuts because it’s in their interests to do so.
Go, sign. Or one day you might be unlucky enough to regret it.
…unless of course you are a venal, spiteful, attention-seeker who makes spurious complaints. Thank god for those solicitors.