The number of young men entering the criminal justice it is set to rise as boys born after the millennium hit 17, according to a leading criminal lawyer who warned that the Ministry of Justice will have to find more money to deal with the spike.
Greg Powell, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association and partner at Powell Spencer & Partners, told the All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, there is a ‘demographic issue’ that the Ministry of Justice needs to address.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that 679,029 babies were born in 2000, lower than the 699,976 born in 1999, but while numbers fell slightly in 2001 and 2002 they have increased every year from 2003-2008.
Most crime, he said, is committed by young men aged between 17 and 23, and those boys born after the millennium will start hitting 17 and so, he predicted, a rise in the level of crime.
‘The cost to the criminal justice system will go up and the Ministry of Justice need to see this,’ he said. ‘The Ministry of Justice trumpets legal aid, access to justice and the rule of law and then says that it won’t pay any more for it’.
‘The politics of austerity have trumped the politics of access to justice,’ he said.
Addressing the broader funding problems he said that criminal lawyers have faced ‘austerity since before there was austerity’ with no pay rise since the 1990s, two decades of cuts and the erosion of the value of their income through inflation.
The ‘big outstanding question,’ he added, is whether the government will seek to implement the second tranche of 8.75% cuts for criminal solicitors.
Cutting off lifelines – the demise of civil legal aid
Director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, Carol Storer, highlighted the devastating impact that successive legal aid cuts have had on the number of people receiving advice and the number of providers.
She highlighted figures from the Ministry of Justice that showed the number of new civil matters has dropped from 933,815 in 2009/10 to 146,618 in 2016/17 – a fall of 787, 197. ‘Do these people not need advice? Where are they going?’ she asked.
And while, before the implementation of the Legal aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the government predicted there would be 5-7,000 cases annually paid for by the exceptional funding scheme, Storer noted that there had been fewer than 2,000 in any year since the act.
She also highlighted the drop in number of providers. The MoJ figures showed that the number of firms doing civil legal aid had fallen from 4,173 in 2012/13 to 2,902 in 2016/17.
‘The legal aid firm’ of the 1980s quits legal aid
London firm Fisher Meredith which, Storer said, was ‘the legal aid firm’ in the 1980s, has recently stopped doing public law children work, the final area of publicly funded work that it hitherto continue to do.
For firms faced with the cuts, she said: ‘It’s just an impossible workload with an impossible amount of money coming in and overheads going up’.
‘Do we want to live in a society where people with no money do not matter? Where the rich and powerful or simply the richer and more powerful can behave with impunity because their former partners, employees, their tenants, the people seeking a service from them have no redress?
‘Do we want a landlord to be able to rent out sub standard accommodation to evict someone regardless of what the law is? Do we want a government department to treat the people applying to it for benefits or education to be unchallengeable because they cannot access their legal rights because they cannot afford to enforce them?’
Civil legal aid, she said, is about ‘ensuring a fair, just society where the rule of law is part of society, not a theoretical concept’.
Politicians have cut budgets, fed stories to the press to discredit legal aid, portrayed this as money for overpaid lawyers. It’s not – it’s about cutting off lifelines for the just about managing and the people who have always struggled to manage’.
While Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, head of policy at the Law Centres Network, pointed out that LASPO has ‘far-exceeded’ the government’s cost-cutting expectations, reducing the civil legal aid spend by more than £600 million rather than the £350 million originally sought, and leaving thousands of people without legal help.
Grenfell Tower response
Alison Mohammed, director of homelessness charity Shelter, told the meeting that the response from lawyers to the Grenfell Tower blaze, four weeks ago today, had been ‘fantastic’. ‘There has been a great out-pouring of support’ and ‘good collegiate working’ with North Kensington Law Centre, Shelter and the Housing Law Practitioners Association.
She pledged that the lawyers working with all the agencies were ‘her for the longterm and the longhaul – solicitors wil be needed for a long time to come’.
Julie Bishop, director of the Law Centres Network, added that the disaster had prompted lawyers from across the City to work in partnership with law centres and advice agencies helping the victims and survivors. ‘Within 24 hours all of the big firms had given photocopiers, laptops and offered other support,’ she said.
The meeting was held to formally reconstitute the APPGLA following the general election. Karen Buck MP was elected chair, while Labour’s Andy Slaughter, Yvonne Fovargue and Lord Bach, and Conservatives Dominic Grieve, Henry Bellingham and Alex Chalk were appointed vice chairs.
‘Legal aid is really important’ said Chalk, the MP Cheltenham since 2015 and former barrister specialising in counter-terrorism, homicide and serious fraud cases.
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