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March 4, 2015

A fair justice system…even for the wealthy?

The government’s measures to get more money from the court system affect access to justice for the rich as well as the poor. The poor are of course more effected by cuts to legal aid because they cannot afford to pay a lawyer but, in the criminal courts, everyone is now affected. I have been researching unrepresented litigants in the criminal courts and have come across cases of great injustice where the defendants do have lawyers. Twitter alerted me to a letter in the Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/11403584/Letters-Pensioner-bonds-are-not-much-help-to-elderly-savers-or-the-British-economy.html) which pointed out that, if your case collapsed, you couldn’t get your legal costs back. This seemed grossly unfair. The other day I met “Daniel” who had a similar story. He had been in a bar with some merry friends and acquaintances. One of the women went to the toilet and came back with a black eye and cut having bashed into something. “Daniel” took it on himself to take the woman, whom he hardly knew, to A&E to get her wound patched up. He waited with her for hours, made sure she was OK and thought nothing more of it. To his astonishment, a couple of weeks later police turned up on his doorstep and charged him with assaulting the woman. Despite no good evidence to say he did it, he was prosecuted and the trial started. He was not eligible for legal aid so engaged his own lawyers. After only a couple of days the judge threw out the case for lack of evidence. “Daniel” assumed he would get his legal costs back, but he didn’t and couldn’t. So a case which collapsed because it was so weak cost him £40,000. Justice? I think not.