Hearts and Minds: The Minster, the Bar and legal aid…

Just a heads up that that Hearts and Minds have Justice Minister David Ford on tonight with
Adrian Colton QC, Chairman of the Bar Council. It’s pretty rare that any of our local Ministers will go toe to toe with their critics, though as Pete has already pointed out this is a delicate subject with some nuances that the Minister’s proposed actions seem to ignore…

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  • Cynic2

    It is a shocking breach of Human Rights.

    All those Barristers and Solicitors Children are being denied their right to money to pay their private school fees, guarantee access to Law School in good university followed by a Training Contract or Pupillage with a friend before they move across into Daddy’s Business where they too can suckle on the teat of public money.

    Why if this goes on they might not even manage three full holidays a year (one skiing, one summer and one in between) thereby stunting their professional and personal development. They might even be forced to rise in the back of a Ford Mondeo being denied the Article2 rights of the superior protection afforded by an Audi, BMW or Mercedes.

    This is a shocking breach of the rights and protections of very vulnerable young people who start life with a lot of disadvantages (like having a lawyer for a parent)

    Where is Monica when you need her?

  • Lionel Hutz

    Mick, that link doesn’t seem to be working. Maybe it’s just me though.

  • I saw the programme.

    There was not much new information except perhaps an indication that the parties are not that far apart.

    Mr. Colton responded to the comparisons being made with England and Wales. Mr. Colton said that in England and Wales, many less serious cases end up in the Crown Court. By contrast, a much greater proportion of serious cases are dealt with by Magistrates in Northern Ireland. Mr. Colton also highlighted that there were serious problems with the legal aid budget in England and Wales with difficulties in finding barriesters to do the work.

    Mr. Colton was also keen to emphasise the importance of having an effective system of criminal justice. There comes a point below which the amount expended will not be adequate to sustain such a system.

    Mr. Colton said that he will accept a review if the terms of reference are acceptable (whatever that means). The Lawyers dont seem to be disputing that Mr. Ford has to operate within his £75m budget but Mr. Ford does not accept that the proposals provided by the lawyers would meet that target.

    If I was Thompson, I would have asked Mr. Colton to confirm, or deny, whether they would insist that Mr. Ford should increase the spending beyond the £75m figure if it was proved that their own proposals would not have met that target.

    The gap between the two sides is only £3 million. What we dont yet know is what the cost will be to the Northern Ireland citizen if this dispute is prolonged. In the programme, the cost of keeping offenders in prison was highlighted. In the short term, the dismissal of charges because of lawyer unavailability might save money. Beyond that, if some of released defendants are repeat offenders, that £3 million figure might begin to look rather small.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Thought it was an interesting discussion more for the demeanour than content. You can see that David Ford was holding back from attacking the lawyers. Adrian Colton spoke the truth in relation to why the cuts were going too far and David Ford didn’t challenge that as he has done in the past. I’m not sure what that means.

    Does the Minister believe hes gonna have to climbdown?

    Interesting also that less than 10 firms have said they will work in the new system. I guarantee they are not the ones who do alot of it. From Seymours copy of the letter sent out, it seemed that there was a deadline of 14 days for a response. We must be atleast half way through. And as I have said before, the strike will hold because Barristers are backing it.

    Apart from that, I very much looking forward to my letter

  • joeCanuck

    While it is understandable that there is a desire to keep costs as low as possible. I find it strange that a figure for total allowable costs can be set in advance of knowing the demand. The State has virtually unlimited funds to prosecute and people should also be be able to provide an adequate defence.

  • fordprefect

    JoeC,
    I don’t normally agree with you on quite a lot of topics, but you are spot on there mate!

  • DC

    @Fordprefect and Joe

    That’s not the case – the public prosecution service has been disgraceful in turning down some decent cases – criminal cases. In my view it depends what the issue is and what area you come from.

    PPS and mitigating circumstances and lack of evidence (through poor police work) comes to mind as reasons why the PPS looks the other way and tends to bounces people into a civil court, where the balance of probability is used. Rather than the criminal court where proof beyond doubt is used.

    Still the legal system isn’t working properly when that happens, when you get bounced into a civil court hearing.

  • Lionel Hutz

    DC,

    We’ve had prosecutions for stealing a can of prawns and a can of joke, pair of jeans etc. On the limb of the prosecution test concerning a public interest, they get it wrong sometimes.

    The fact is that per capita, we have more prosecutions in NI than in E+W. Conversely, we have less crown court cases as our magistrates deal with more serious cases here. Make of that what you will.

    JC makes a good point. I suppose what they will try to do is set a rate that they believe will be close to budget. It’ll be overbudget some years and under budget in others. There are massive fluctuations.

  • DC

    Well I don’t want to get into specifics but some of the stuff that I’ve heard isn’t great re the PPS. The PPS resources are actually limited and Joe’s take on it isn’t quite correct. The jeans case was ridiculous and the exception.

    Another thing is lazy police work.

    Apparently now all interviews under caution or arrest or whatever have to happen at Antrim Crime ‘Suite’; I’ve known police when pursuing crime to say to those accused to come down to the station the next day, rather than simply arrest them when they refuse to give a statement there and then on the spot, why? Simply because they can’t be bothered making the arrest and driving to Antrim, if it is miles away and requires them to be assertive and to take notes themselves!

    So the next day when the accused turn up at the local station with their statements all pre-cooked and pre-written (which helps the police out because it makes their job easier for them) – guess what? They’ve got the story all straightened out and witnesses lined up and on message like ducks in a row.

    Clearly the above doesn’t happen for ‘serious’ crime, like politically-motivated dissident stuff, but for your domestics and common thuggish behaviour, the PSNI are a little bit sluggish (massive understatement).

    If this is the quality of some police work, it is clear why cases end up going into the civil courts and not the criminal ones.

  • Lionel Hutz

    The PPS budget is proportionally far higher than in England and Wales. I agree with the rest of your comment though. Although, my wife-to-be is a solicitor and often gets called to local PSNI station for most crimes. It’s only for terrorist offences or very serious crime, that she has to go to Antrim. Maybe it depends were you live though.

  • TeddyT

    Apparently now all interviews under caution or arrest or whatever have to happen at Antrim Crime ‘Suite’

    That is absolute nonsense.

    It is this misinformed rubbish that is polluting any meaningful dialogue.

    Previously DC compared that the role of senior lawyers in a complicated murder case could be done by staff officers in the civil service as criminal is easy!!

    But then again one has to look at the calibre of some of the people making decisions in all areas of our government. David Ford is the leader of a minor party and his experience in justice is being a social worker. Frightening.

  • DC

    @TeddyT

    They could be done by staff officers – there are other areas of the civil service which have civil servants at staff officer grades instructing barristers, so it can be done.

    For instance, I saw an ad recently for a public prosecutor – starting salary around 32k, so I don’t see why it couldn’t be done.

    And btw I live on the east side of NI – from what I’ve been told arrested people have to be taken to Antrim for interview, there is nothing to stop the accused from giving statements at local police stations with their solicitors.

    However, it is likely that if you live in L/Derry etc you don’t go to Antrim because there is prob somewhere closer in that policing district.

  • DC

    My point above is that whenever they refuse to give a statement on the spot to the police – when the police call at their door – that these people should be arrested, but aren’t because of the hassle, and instead the police invite them down to the local station at a time that is convenient to them, like the next day. It is a delaying tactic so that they can get their statements in order.

    They may not even be the directly accused, or have done anything themselves which has broken the law per se, but they still might have information useful to the police which could in part seal a conviction. There is too much leniency and convenience afforded to these type of people.

  • TeddyT

    No to arrest a person it has to be necessary.
    ie danger to the public, risk of further offences, etc
    Therefore if an arrest is not necessary and a person is suspected to have committed an offence they are invited to attend a police station to be interviewed voluntarily (if they refuse they can be arrested). This is part of the human rights of citizens which legal aid is also there to protect. It is law. Good law and good practice.
    Take it from me a £32k pa job at the PPS is to prosecute shoplifting in the Magistrates. The people who prosecute murder cases earn in excess of £100k pa. These people who are highly intelligent and earned their position through ability are not staff officers.
    Get real!

  • TeddyT

    also an arrest shall be deemed as necessary should the police suspect that the person will interfere or impede an investigation

  • DC

    Well Teddy we will have to agree to disagree on the statements and arrest thing, surprise is a vital tactic behind effective policing strategies, by delaying the taking of a statement you pass up the advantage, esp now with modern technology and mobile phones. My point is that this is the driver behind cases dropping out of the criminal court into the civil – because the accused are just too clever and out-wit police, who fail to get enough evidence beyond reasonable doubt.

    You might be right re criminal cases and experience not coming cheaply – but under a Public Defender Office system the idea would be to divulge this knowledge and experience to other staff in a more collegiate manner, shared with a team of would-be barristers and solicitors on public contracts. In footballing terms – ideally – the high flyer would be the Pep Guardiola of the legal world and the legal team beneath him operating like his Barcelona – deploying a perfect system, technically brilliant on all aspects of the law.

    At the moment you have some high flyers taking in millions personally, working on their own and to the profit motive, which is clearly inflationary, there is no doubt about that, as the fees have just been going up and up and up. Till now.

    It about having a mix of options – perhaps that of a Public Defender Office and also traditional legal aid fees for work at the edges of the legal system – needed for specialist skills required to win those difficult criminal cases.

  • fordprefect

    I got an e-mail last week with cctv stills from a serious incident in an “establishment” in Bedford St. Three men were seriously assaulted, sustaining serious facial injuries. This incident happened on the 16th of January, yet, it wasn’t posted on the UTV Crimestoppers site until the 20th of May!? The site wouldn’t say which “establishment” it was, that’s why I have it in inverted commas. The old saying, “the dogs in the street know who it is” springs to mind, because the pics from the cctv are crystal clear (except for one). This tells me that the cops are lazy b******’s, or, that quite a few of the people in the pics are working for them, i.e. informers.

  • fordprefect

    I would say the latter i.e. informers is more likely the case!