The UK coalition government has plans to remove the right of access to free legal advice to those arrested of a crime.
This assault on the fundamental rights of the UK citizen has been voted through in the form of the controversial clause 12 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which would ‘pave the way for secondary legislation to introduce means testing for legal advice for those held in a police station’ reports the Independent.
The right to free legal advice at the point of arrest has been enshrined in UK law for 27 years by the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act. PACE was introduced to prevent miscarriages of justice such as in the cases of the ‘Birmingham Six’ and Guildford Four’ where confession evidence was obtained in questionable circumstances or fabricated.
The aim of the new bill is to cut the cost of the law by reducing the legal aid bill by 20%.
But civil liberty groups, lawyers and MPs are warning that the disadvantaged will be put at risk. There would also be delays and hidden costs as well as the Law Society saying that the process of trying to means test those arrested in a police station would be ‘simply unworkable’.
Not only that, there will also be a new post created; a director of legal aid, whose task would be to decide which of those detained would deserve legal aid ‘in the interest of justice’ – with no right to appeal.
The rich have never had, nor ever will, have a problem gaining top-notch legal assistance. And from 1984 until now the rest of us had a good fighting chance. Now some of the most vulnerable will get aid, if they are allowed it, but whole swathes of the population could in future well find them cut off from good legal assistance purely on the basis of cost.
This is not a pretty prospect when you consider peoples’ freedom is at stake.
Anyone can have justice in the UK it seems, well, if they can afford it!