An 81-year-old man has been remanded in custody after appearing unrepresented at a Crown court due to protest action by local solicitors over legal aid cuts.
Harry Harrison, who is partially deaf, appeared in Hull Crown Court yesterday charged with attempted murder. Although he had been represented at the police station by the duty solicitor following his arrest on Saturday, he appeared in court unrepresented.
Solicitors in Hull are supporting protest action – ‘no to Crown court’ – in response to fee cuts and planned contracting changes. With the exception of youth cases, solicitors have not been accepting new Crown court cases since the beginning of the month.
Remanding Harrison in custody, as there was no one to make a bail application, the Hull Daily Mail reported that his honour judge Mettyear said: ‘It’s unfair for a firm of solicitors to leave a man of 81 without a lawyer, whatever the reason. I’m full of sympathy for their position, but this is a special case.’
He told Harrison: ‘I’m sorry that there’s nobody here to assist you. You need a lawyer to help you and I’m going to do everything I can to get one. For the moment I’ve got no choice but to remand you in custody, but I hope that a bail application can be made.’
Mettyear told the Gazette: ‘All I’m concerned about is the personal circumstances of the man – he is 81, has no previous convictions and he appeared in court with no teeth, no glasses, no hearing aid and no representation. It is a case where someone urgently needed to make a bail application on his behalf.’
Mettyear said he was ‘annoyed’ that there was no one present to represent Harrison and that no one had written to warn the court.
Mettyear said he was ‘very unhappy’ about the case and invited the solicitor involved to see him, which he did. As a result, Mettyear said the solicitor has agreed to represent Harrison pro bono at a bail application next week.
Chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and Hull solicitor Bill Waddington said: ‘It is of course very unfortunate for the defendant concerned, but we want to show what will happen when firms close and access to justice is denied as a result of the financial cuts and two-tier contract system.
‘There will be more people unrepresented at Crown court and in criminal proceedings in areas where lawyers go out of business or where there are too few lawyers to provide access to justice,’ he said.
Karl Turner, Labour MP for Hull East, did not blame solicitors, but said: ‘It’s a perfect example of the system failing as a result of government plans. Solicitors last month had their fees cut by 8.75% and another 8.75% cut will come in with the new contracts. Firms can’t cope.’
Turner said: ‘He’s remanded an 81-year-old man in custody in the hope that he’ll find someone to represent him. It’s just outrageous we’re in this position. It’s the vulnerable who are suffering as a result of the government’s cuts.’
He added that justice secretary Chris Grayling ‘could sort this out by sitting down with solicitors to see where savings can be made. The system can take cuts, but it’s about where you make them.’
Labour, he said, has committed to a full review of the criminal justice system.