‘I don’t believe that most people who find themselves in our criminal justice system are great connoisseurs of legal skills.’
The words of justice secretary Chris Grayling in his interview with the Gazette last week defending plans to remove the ability of suspects to choose their solicitor, prompted much criticism.
Those criticisms reflect what many felt was arrogance in the assertion that those who get involved in the criminal justice system are essentially ‘too thick to pick’.
Grayling clearly has a low opinion of the intellectual ability of former parliamentarians including Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer. And indeed Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans who was arrested on suspicion of rape.
His remarks ignore the fact that many people who are arrested and face trail are not guilty of any offence, but were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
To my mind they also demonstrate his lack of knowledge of the basic realities of the system that he is trying to transform.
Many people who use the services of lawyers, do so infrequently during their lifetime - generally when they move house, get divorced, when they prepare a will or a member of their family dies.
It’s fair to say therefore that the vast majority of the public are not ‘great connoisseurs of legal skills’.
But it is a fact that a large amount of crime is committed by a relatively small number of recidivist offenders, who for a multitude of reasons have been unable to break the spiral of offending.
That group's members come into frequent contact with lawyers and are, in fact, probably the finest connoisseurs of legal services. If anyone wants to know who the best briefs and worst briefs are in London, a chat with the residents of HMP Brixton or Wandsworth would tell you all you need to know.
How can it be that changes that could have such a fundamental and damaging impact on the criminal justice system and the rule of law have been designed by civil servants who seemingly lack understanding of how the system operates and are promoted by a uninterested and ill-informed secretary of state?
Catherine Baksi is a reporter on the Gazette
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