Thursday, 31 October 2013

Legal Aid A Loan, So Why Do You Lose Your Right To Choose?

As has been mooted for some time, the state is now to charge interest for the provision of legal aid services to people accused by it of committing crimes (Stuff, 31 October 2013). This underscores the fact that legal aid is seen by the state as a loan, which people must pay back.

Well that might or might not be reasonable. What I don't get is why, if you need a legal aid loan, should you be prevented from hiring a lawyer of your choice? Under the changes to the legal aid scheme brought in by then Justice Minister Simon Power, people if they required a grant of legal aid to defend themselves in terms of most offences, lost the right to choose their lawyer. Defence counsel are now assigned by the state, with over 50% of all defence assignments given by the state to its own Public Defence Service. This seems to run counter to the government's belief about market choice that it promotes in other areas.  

There is something blatantly wrong when you have a free market government, that trumpets the beneficial effect of the market in terms of its assets sale programme for example, yet when it comes to the provision of legal services, it moves to prevent people from selecting counsel of choice. Further, If you require a loan to build your house or put on an extension, the bank doesn't choose your builder.

Why is it then, that if you require a state loan (legal aid) to run your defence, that the state removes your right to choose your lawyer? Surely your liberty is more important than an ensuite or a conservatory, therefore your right to choose your own lawyer should be even more fundamental?


  1. Hello Michael,
    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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  4. In part you are correct re banks and credit risk assessment. But worse than that, if the State fails in its prosecution or the case is thrown out as being evidentially weak, or the Court finds there was no case to answer, you will never get reimbursed the actual costs of the State's ineptitude it bringing a case that should never have been brought. You may very occasionally get some costs back, but only a token. Further while a large number of people charged may be found guilty, they are still presumed innocent at the start. A 2006 Cabinet paper showed that 15% of all people refused bail and sent to prison until their charges were resolved – & who were often in prison for months – were never convicted. Further, only about half of those remanded in custody end up being sentenced to prison when convicted

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