The Court of Appeal has quashed a decision to halt a multi-million pound fraud trial due to a lack of legal aid barristers willing to represent the defendants.
Barrister and brother of the prime minister Alex Cameron QC is working free of charge in a bid to halt the trial, he successfully argued at Southwark Crown Court earlier this month that the three defendants would not get a fair trial as they were not sufficiently represented. The controversial Ministry of Justice reforms involve a 30% cuts to barristers’ fees meaning that experienced barristers are refusing to take on lengthy and complex cases.
Three Court of Appeal judges quashed the order yesterday ruling that the Crown Court judge Anthony Leonard QC should not have stayed the prosecution and that it was too early to decide that the men could not receive a fair trial. The Court did state however, that there may come a time in the future that this case cannot go ahead for the same reason.
The judgement stated that it is "undeniably the responsibility" of the Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling to sort out how the men are going to be represented. The ruling urges Grayling to work with the legal profession to try to resolve the current stand-off, as the commotion is now clearly standing in the way of justice.
Grayling and the MoJ will now attempt to cover the case (and his back side) by arranging legal representation via the Public Defender Service (PDS) – a department of the Legal Aid Agency which recruits salaried counsel.
Although they are advertising for new advocates, it is arguable that the PDS will not be able to deal with an increase in demand, should more complex cases and VHCCs follow the same pattern. If demand grows and they fail to recruit adequately, quality will undoubtedly suffer as a result.
Those accused of the most serious and complex crimes surely deserve to have a barrister with the experience and ability to deal with the case at hand – but how highly will this be placed on Lord Grayling’s list of priorities?