The Justice Select Committee has issued a critical report in response to criminal legal aid reforms. In criminal cases, there is a common law right to legal advice, and a right to legal representation under the European Convention on Human Rights. The committee heard “compelling evidence” of the fragility of the Criminal Bar and criminal defence solicitors' firms, which places these rights at risk.

It concluded that under-funding of the criminal justice system in England and Wales threatens its effectiveness, tarnishing the reputation of the justice system as a whole, and undermining the rule of law.

The Committee recommends that the Government conduct an urgent cross-departmental review of funding of all elements of the criminal justice system, with the aim of restoring resources to a level that enables the system to operate effectively.

Comment:

Legal Expenses Insurance gives limited cover for criminal defence which usually is only available for work-related and motoring prosecutions. As there is no possibility of transferring liability for defence costs from the state to a private funder (such as an insurer), the prospect of an under-funded system, that potentially compromises an individual’s right to legal representation which is necessary for a fair trial, is of particular concern.

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