Four out of five adults in England and Wales would be unable to pay for a lawyer were they accused of a crime, according to a survey of the likely impact of the government’s planned legal aid cuts.
They would have to represent themselves or even remortgage their homes, it revealed.
A Populus poll commissioned by the six bar circuits and Criminal Bar Association showed that, under the reforms, 80% of adults would be unable to afford the average £10,000 legal fees incurred for a three-day trial, and would be forced to represent themselves.
Of the 2,036 adults who took part, 75% said that a person accused of a crime who cannot afford to pay their legal fees should be entitled to financial help.
As the government, and justice secretary Chris Grayling (pictured), plan to introduce wide-ranging cuts to legal aid, including a £37,500 eligibility cap, 64% of respondents said there would be more miscarriages of justice and wrongful convictions as a result.
More than half, 60%, said the cuts would hit those on middle incomes hardest.
Asked if they would be comfortable being represented by G4S or Eddie Stobart, 16% and 20% respectively said they would be.
Commenting, the leader of the North East Circuit, Alistair MacDonald QC, said the results show that many Britons will be faced with ‘financial ruin’ if they are put in a position were they have to defend themselves in a criminal court.
He said the £37,500 household disposable income cap for legal aid eligibility will hit ‘hard-working families’ the hardest, many of whom could have to remortgage their homes.
MacDonald said: ‘The losers will be law-abiding citizens on modest incomes who defend their homes against intruders, accidentally clip a cyclist in their cars, or who are simply among the many each year accused of crimes they haven’t committed.’
If the proposals are implemented, those who qualify for legal aid will lose the ability to select their lawyer and will instead be allocated one by the state. MacDonald said this would render the ‘globally renowned’ British criminal justice system ‘unrecognisable’.