7 out of 10 of the British public fear legal aid cuts will lead to injustice – new poll

21 May 2013

A ComRes poll, commissioned by the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, today shows that seven out of ten (71%) of the British public are concerned that cuts to legal aid could lead to  innocent people being convicted of crimes they did not commit. The poll, published this morning, also shows that two-thirds (67%) of the British public agree that legal aid is a price worth paying for living in a fair society.

And it is the poorest who will be hit hardest by the proposed changes, according to 75% of those polled.

This comes as a Government consultation on legal aid is ongoing, which proposes a model of price competitive tendering, where the lowest bidders will win work, regardless of their experience in the legal market. It will also see the removal of people's right to choose their own lawyer. In stark contrast to the Government's claims that the legal aid system has lost credibility with the public, ComRes' poll shows that: 

  • Eight out of ten (83%) of the British public believe that people accused of a crime should be treated as innocent until proven guilty, only a small minority (6%) disagree

  • Seven in ten (71%) people are worried that innocent people could be convicted of crimes they did not commit if they are forced to use the cheapest defence lawyer available

  • Three-quarters (75%) of the public say that it will be the poorest members of society who will be most affected if the Government makes cuts to legal aid

  • Two-thirds (68%) also agree that at less than 0.5% of annual Government spending, legal aid is a worthwhile investment in our basic freedoms, and

  • More than half of British adults (53%) agree that our justice system is respected by people around the world because of the quality of our barristers.

Maura McGowan QC,Chairman of the Bar, said:

"Successive governments have failed in their efforts to undermine public confidence in legal aid. In fact, most people think it is a good investment in a fair society. This poll provides the evidence which the Government has failed to gather. The public hugely values our legal aid system and it is concerned about the consequences of the Government's proposals. The Ministry of Justice should listen to what people are saying and the strong messages delivered by this poll. The public thinks a properly funded legal aid system is a price worth paying for living in a fair society; this is not just the view of groups of lawyers.

"Too often lazy stereotypes are used to describe our justice system. An independent legal profession, which operates to the highest standards and competes on quality, is fundamental to a fair and democratic society. The Government seems to have relied too heavily on those stereotypes when formulating these proposals, but it is desperately out of touch with voters. People do not want to see a further reduction of their defence against Big Government.

"We have a justice system and legal professionals who make a huge and varied contribution to our society. The British public recognises that and so do people all over the world. It is not too late for the Government to realise that also."

ENDS

Notes to editors:

1. For further information, please contact the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 or Press@BarCouncil.org.uk

2. ComRes, commissioned by the Bar Council, interviewed 2,033 GB adults online between 10 and 12 May 2013. Data were weighted to be representative of all GB adults aged 18+. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. 

A range of statements were put to respondents in the context of the following question:

If you are charged with a crime, the Government will currently pay for your defence by a local lawyer of your choice through legal aid. The Government now wants this work to be done by the lowest bidder, regardless of their level of experience of the courts system. The Government says such changes are necessary to reduce the cost of running the courts system. Thinking about the justice system in the UK, do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?

3. Full results are available at here

4. The Bar Council is also promoting a petition in partnership with the campaign group, 38 Degrees, and encouraging people to sign it. It currently has over 9,000 signatures. 

5. The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes: 

  • The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services

  • Fair access to justice for all

  • The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and

  • The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board.