Head of crime and founding partner at MSB Solicitors, Sean Sexton, claims ‘broken system’ of Legal Aid is on the verge of collapse due to devastating effects of Government cutbacks. Tony McDonough reports
Access to justice for millions of people is now at risk due to ongoing cuts to Legal Aid, a leading Liverpool criminal lawyer says.
In a blog, Sean Sexton who is founding partner and head of crime at MSB Solicitors, says the “broken system” of Legal Aid is on the verge of collapse with two-thirds of existing law firms offering Legal Aid facing extinction.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (Laspo) Act, which came into effect in 2013, and aimed to save £450m a year. The Government’s own statistics show spending on Legal Aid has plummeted from £2.6bn in 2005-06 to £1.5bn last year.
Legal Aid was introduced by a Labour Government in 1949 along with the NHS and the welfare state. However, many see it as benefiting people who have habitually broken the law and therefore it doesn’t enjoy the same level of affection.
However, countering this perception, Mr Sexton, who has been praised as a “legal powerhouse” in the Legal 500, said: “Most of my clients have never previously been in trouble with the police. Most are in work, have families and live law abiding lives.
“They include a taxi driver accused of making a homophobic remark to a passenger; a teacher accused of altering a form for the local council amounting to a forgery; a young lad celebrating his 18th birthday given a wrap of drugs by his mates; and a nurse accused of drinking and driving.
“There are many more similar cases. All denied these offences. Most of them were at risk of losing their jobs and some were at risk of prison. All were acquitted and are grateful for a Legal Aid system that meant that ordinary people of modest means could be represented by skilled, properly qualified lawyers.”
Mr Sexton also cited the recent case of Liam Allan, a 22-year-old criminology student, who faced up to 10 years in jail after being accused of raping a fellow student in 2017.
His trial was halted at Croydon Crown Court in December and the judge, Peter Gower, called for a review of disclosure of evidence by the Metropolitan Police, as well as an inquiry at the Crown Prosecution Service.
It was only the dedication of his own lawyers that ensured the evidence to free him was uncovered. Mr Sexton says cuts to Legal Aid mean many people will be denied access to that same expertise.
“The Legal Aid system was the fourth pillar of the welfare state. Now it is at risk of destruction and even opposition politicians are silent. There are no votes in defending it,” he said.