The coalition’s destruction of legal aid has been one of it’s most disgusting and under reported acts of shame. For The Guardian, Owen Bowcott reports: “Alexander Cameron QC argues in court that state has failed to provide defendants with adequate representation. The Prime minister’s brother, Alexander Cameron QC, has argued in court that a complex fraud trial should not go ahead because the defendants are inadequately represented due to cuts in legal aid.
What should have been the first case brought to court by the new Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has been surrounded by controversy since criminal barristers began protests over cuts of up to 30% in fees.
Although barristers have since called off their co-ordinated direct action, none with relevant experience of complex fraud cases have offered to take on defence briefs in the alleged land bank fraud because of the deep cuts imposed by the Ministry of Justice on legal aid fees in so-called very high cost cases (VHCC).
The case, Crawley and others at Southwark crown court, involves eight defendants. All have pleaded not guilty. Reporting restrictions were lifted for arguments about representation.
Cameron, appearing on a pro bono basis for the defendants, called for the case to be stayed – formally halted – on the grounds that the men could not receive a fair trial if it went ahead.
“The state has failed to provide adequate representation to allow the trial to take place,” Cameron told the court. “A stay is exceptional, but so is lack of representation in this country. We are worried about a fair trial. It’s not the fault of the FCA but we do [blame] the state more widely.”
Merely adjourning the trial to next January would not solve the problem, he said, because there was a limited supply of experienced lawyers and they would be unlikely to be available then.
The court was told that lawyers from the recently expanded Public Defence Service (PDS) could be available to represent the defendants.
Ben Emmerson QC, for the FCA, said there would have to be an adjournment because it was not the defendants’ fault and “it would be inconsistent for them to face trial on these charges without legal representation”. He opposed the idea of a formal stay being put on the case.
He said the issue was whether “there was a reasonable, realistic prospect that competent advocates will have sufficient time to prepare and will be available for an adjourned trial date”.
Emmerson said there should be sufficient number of lawyers from the PDS available in January for an adjourned trial. “A defendant who chose not to go to the PDS and then sought to argue that it was unfair [that he was not represented by an independent QC] would be in a position where he was voluntarily without a lawyer.”
The judge, Anthony Leonard QC, is due to give his ruling on the trial later this week.
Responding to questions about the case, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Barristers have refused to work on this case – and a number of other very high cost cases – because they do not agree with savings the government is making to legal aid.
“Even after the savings, if a QC picked up a case like this one they could expect to receive around £100,000 for working on it, with a junior barrister receiving around £60,000. The government has made sure that the Public Defender Service has a number of suitably qualified advocates who could act in this case.”
The shadow justice minister, Andy Slaughter, said: “This is a significant and brave intervention from Alex Cameron QC. His stance only highlights the reckless nature of his brother’s worrying slashing of legal aid. David Cameron should listen to the experts – including his brother – and change course before it is too late.””(http://www.theguardian.com/law/2014/apr/28/david-cameron-brother-legal-aid-cuts)