One of the talks of the legal world (at least the legal aid world) recently is the case of Operation Cotton. The question of the lawfulness of the legal aid cuts (although this is not what it is stated to be, that is the effect) came to the Court of Appeal.
For some background reading:
- Our write up of the judgment of the Crown Court Judge
- Preview of the Court of Appeal hearing
- Why, actually, the outcome may not matter
The judgment was handed down on 21st May 2014. It is worth reading in full.
In essence, the Court accepted that any issue as to conflict had been resolved by the PDS Code of Conduct being changed to allow for representatives to act where there is a conflict.
The Court dismissed the Judge’s view that, as the prosecution was an arm of the same state that had caused the lack of representation by cutting legal aid rates, this was an important factor, saying “In our judgment, it is quite wrong, for present purposes, to seek to link, effectively as one, the FCA as prosecuting authority and those responsible for the provision of legal aid or to speak of “its own failure” as if there was a joint enterprise in which both were involved” (para 29).
What the case came down to there’re was “Is there a realistic prospect of competent advocates with sufficient time to prepare being available in the foreseeable future?” (Para 46).
The Court held that the Judge’s finding of fact was unreasonable (normally a very high threshold). In fact, there may be a resolution with the bar, but even if not, the PDS can expand to fill the gaps.
For that reason, the stay was overturned and it’s back to Southwark they go. The MoJ will now be in a race against time to make sure they have enough PDS advocates to deal with this one as well as the two other VHCCs coming in September.
This is a very important case. There is a lot to be said about it, but am currently at court and doing all this off my phone, so will return to it later. Until then, if you have any views, feel free to post them in the comments section.