In 2015 when I was trying (with difficulty) to do research on unrepresented defendants in the criminal courts, I steered away from the Crown Court because the Ministry of Justice said they were doing research on this which would be published. I chased and chased but eventually they announced that they had no intention of publishing the research. After I and others (inc Emily Dugan of Buzzfeed) FOIed the report and appealed to the ICO, the MoJ was forced to publish.
Two years later we have six pages – an analytical summary based on interviews with 15 Crown Court judges and 6 CPS prosecutors. Small scale though it is, many of the findings echo Transform Justice’s own research on unrepresented defendants in the magistrates’ courts.
No one knows how many people appear in the Crown Court without a lawyer throughout their trial, but 7% defendants are unrepresented at their first appearance in the Crown Court. The MoJ report points out that
There is a consensus from interviewees that unrepresented defendants slow the court process down at every stage. This has implications for funding of legal aid. There are strong hints from the report writers that they think that it is not cost effective to deny legal aid to those who cannot afford private fees/contributions – hence the suggestion that there should be a Crown Court duty solicitor scheme and/or judicial discretion to grant representation where appropriate.
The report is disappointing in not including any quotes from the interviewees. But the conclusion are clear – that unrepresented defendants are neglected in policy and practice and that their financial impact should be monitored “assessing and costing options to mitigate any negative impact”.
Transform Justice made a similar recommendations two years ago. We have a criminal justice system which is too complicated and fundamentally unsuited to defendants coping without a lawyer, either in the Crown Court or the magistrates’. We either need to simplify the system altogether, or give legal aid (with the lawyers paid fair rates) to anyone who needs it.