In 2013, the government proposed changes to legal aid that financially rewarded lawyers if their client pleaded guilty, and cost them money if a case went to trial. In January of this year, justice secretary Michael Gove withdrew cuts to legal aid fees and also a proposed contract-tendering procedure that would have seen a reduction in the number of law firms able to do duty legal work.
These were both policies that aimed to reduce the amount the UK government spends on legal aid. An open letter in the Guardian newspaper from legal experts and representatives all over the country states that legal aid reforms, revoked or otherwise, have had a serious impact on the ability of the most vulnerable people to access justice.
Magna Carta contained a clause concerning the right of a free man (not women, not villeins) to be released if held unlawfully without a fair trial. This clause has evolved into the legal recourse of habeas corpus, whereby anybody unlawfully detained is able to challenge those responsible. It is one of only three clauses from Magna Carta that remain in some form in British law.
Though it might be naïve to view Magna Carta as the foundation of British democracy, it is true that echoes of it remain in our modern legal system. Yet, despite the centuries in-between, it still remains harder for those who can’t pay to access legal help. Would it be fairer to, say, toss a coin to determine the outcome of a trial than to measure out justice depending on whether or not the defendant can afford a good lawyer? Perhaps it would be easier to introduce an option for trial by scrabble, or Monopoly, or darts. Do you fancy representing yourself in court? How do you think you’d do?