Early resolution pilot yet another attack on defence lawyers
A new initiative to expedite the resolution of summary cases will short-change defence lawyers, without extra pay.
The Summary Case Management pilot, which begins today, seeks to reduce the number of unnecessary hearings at summary level, which contributed to over 400,000 witness citations last year. It aims to achieve this by facilitating early disclosure of evidence and early judicial case management.
Matthew McGovern, a partner at McGovern Reid, however, pointed out that defence lawyers are once again losing out.
He tweeted: “Early resolution of appropriate cases is in everyone’s interest, not least the accused. However this is a pilot that is unfunded and places considerable additional pressure, responsibility and work onto the defence for no additional funding.”
He added: “The ‘changes’ to legal aid are tokenistic. Essentially ABWOR will be available from when papers are served rather than from first appearance. There will be no change to the eligibility criteria for ABWOR and Summary LA. In short, it is easier to get legal aid after a plea of not guilty is tendered. We’re told this affects roughly eight per cent of accused persons so for lawyers to participate in the pilot scheme to the fullest possible extent we face the prospect of an eight per cent reduction in our turnover (not the same as our income).”
Mr McGovern also noted that other justice partners were not being asked to take an eight per cent hit to participate in the scheme and that defence lawyers lack the resources to deal with the extra complication.
“It’s unfortunate that an otherwise worthy initiative will be undermined by the limitations of legal aid funding. An analogue legal aid system cannot be expected to deliver a digital justice system,” he said.