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Justice on the cheap?

  • 05 May 2010
  • By Anton Balkitis

The number of paralegals entering the legal profession has doubled in the last decade and is set to rise even further. Recent figures show an increase from 24,509 in 2001 to 51,250 today - a rise of 109%.

In addition, the Regulator of the Institute of Legal Executives is currently consulting on a proposal to grant Extended Rights of Audience to Associate Prosecutors - who are not required to have legal qualifications.

These Rights of Audience, if granted, will mean that such Associate Prosecutors will be able to prosecute all summary-only cases in the Magistrates' Court.

At this stage, there are no plans at present to allow these Prosecutors to prosecute offences that are punishable by imprisonment. However, the very idea of having defendants prosecuted by Associate Prosecutors with no legal qualifications could lead to potential miscarriages of justice; which, as we all know, are expensive to correct.

This issue was debated and settled by Parliament when the Criminal Justice & Immigration Actpassed into legislation in 2008; and the powers that Associate Prosecutors can be granted are defined by the legislation. The key issue is the competence of Associate Prosecutors to carry out the work the legislation permits.

Although, in principle, we should welcome any attempts to reduce public expenditure, it is the accumulative effect that this is likely to have. Not only is legal aid less readily available and legal aid rates are continuing to be cut; but this also comes at a time when HM Courts Service is moving to replace legally trained court clerks with unqualified note takers.

Therefore, there is all the more reason for drivers and motorists to engage proper legal representation when it comes to Magistrates' Court Hearings, including trials, which Associate Prosecutors shall be able to handle. If you take out the absence of proper legal representation for a defendant; with the limited legal knowledge of magistrates and court clerks without legal training, and prosecutors without full qualifications, the risk is that justice shall not best be served.

No one doubts that paralegals do a valuable job and that Associate Prosecutors should be able to present 'guilty' pleas in uncomplicated cases - but that is worlds apart from contested trials, where once again the defendant or driver faces the possibility of a miscarriage of justice.

For further information contact Anton Balkitis or Lucy Wood on 0115 9100 600