Advisers and mortgage brokers accused of fraud could struggle to find a qualified lawyer under government plans to reform legal aid.
Lawyers have warned that in complex cases allocating a defendant eligible for legal aid a non-specialist lawyer could jeopardise their access to a fair trial.
Retired judge Sir Anthony Hooper told the Today programme robust lawyers were the main safeguard against innocent people being convicted.
He said: “If I was arrested in Norwich on a complex fraud case I would be able under the present system to find solicitors in London or Manchester who specialise in complex fraud cases. Not now. Someone will turn up at the door and say ‘I’m representing you’.”
RPC partner Simon Chandler, who advises the National Fraud Authority on mortgage fraud, said brokers facing accusations would no longer be guaranteed a specialist lawyer.
However, the lack of money flowing into the legal system could also mean prosecutions for mortgage fraud also diminished, he added.
The Ministry of Justice is currently consulting on its proposals to cut £220m from the annual criminal case legal aid budget and put legal aid contracts out to tender. Companies planning to bid include a subsidiary of truck firm Eddie Stobart.
Conservative MP and Local Government vice-chairman Bob Neill responded to Hooper’s comments by calling for a reality check.
He said: “The legal aid aspect of it one of the most expensive in the world. You can’t expect the justice system to be exempt from cutting expenditure more than anything else.”
Specialist cases such as those mentioned by Hooper related to “a tiny minority” of defendants, he added.
First mentioned in Cridland Report
Second acquisition of 2019
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