Solicitors have expressed disbelief at the government’s decision to sit on research about unrepresented defendants in Crown courts.
Labour peer Lord Beecham (Jeremy Beecham) asked the Ministry of Justice when it intends to publish a report on issues faced by courts and practitioners as a result of cases in which defendants are unrepresented.
However, a government spokesperson in the Lords, Baroness Buscombe (Peta Jane Buscombe), said the research was ’designed and delivered as an internal report to give the government a better understanding of the practical issues associated with unrepresented defendants’. The government has ‘no plans’ to publish the report, she said.
Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association chair Zoe Gascoyne said publication of the research would be in the interests of everyone who comes into contact with the criminal justice system.
Gascoyne said: ’It is incumbent upon the MoJ to be open and transparent, especially in light of the government’s widely publicised commitment to protecting complainants of domestic violence. What also needs to be visible is the impact of cuts to legal aid eligibility as it is in the Crown court where more serious offences are prosecuted and where unrepresented people face far greater sentencing powers.’
Gascoyne said the association did not understand the reluctance to publish the litigants in person research ’if there are genuine lessons to be learned as opposed to ones that are preferred to be buried’.
Greg Powell, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, said: ’In the midst of the rather incoherent barrage of initiatives in the criminal justice system, any research involving the consequences of change is invaluable. Not to publish and allow comment and engagement around this issue is extraordinary.’
The last piece of legal research published by the ministry was its delayed Legal Problem Resolution Survey, which showed that vulnerable people - those living with a disability, as lone parents or on less than £15,000 a year - are more likely to experience multiple legal problems than others.