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Your Right to Choice of Solicitor - A Fundamental Tenet of the Criminal Justice System

View profile for Kinneri Patel
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This summer the criminal justice system hit the headlines with talks of the government removing the right to choose your solicitor in criminal defence.

The sight of Eddie Stobart’s lorry still fills me with horror: our criminal justice system could have resembled a cattle market with the highest bidder winning. Why then do the principles of competitive tendering not work in the criminal justice system? The answer lies in its close connections to the foundations for a just society and the sanctity of every person’s liberty.

I took pains to explain to my clients why they should take an interest in the government’s ill thought out proposals to rework the criminal justice system.  Those proposals meant that when they went to the police station for interview or to the Magistrates or Crown Court following charge they would not have the right to elect for our firm, but instead would be allocated an unknown person from the list of appropriate service providers, authorised by the government. The puzzled looks were followed by claims of ‘but they won’t know about me or my family’, ‘how am I supposed to trust them’, and ‘I’ll represent myself’.  They were right to be concerned. The government had seen fit to compromise their right to choose, but notably only if they fell below a certain income threshold, which included the most vulnerable members of society and every juvenile in the country.

I was not the only person to be incited by the government’s proposals. Criminal defence solicitors from around the country together with the law society rallied against the changes to preserve a person’s fundamental right to choose their own solicitor.

Why then do people not take advantage of this right?  I am shocked when I arrive at the police station as a solicitor to see that individuals with a lengthy history of committing crime forget their solicitor’s name or forgo their right to choose. To have someone represent you who knows your history and your background is essential. It creates a relationship of trust between lawyer and client, reduces public spend because of quicker case turnaround and improves results for clients who are more likely to provide instructions from the outset.

The solicitor-client relationship in crime is essential to the workings of the system. We pride ourselves on clients choosing to use our services.  Sadly, the reality is that not all clients make use of their right to elect.  Ultimately the battle to maintain your right to choose your solicitor only means something if you actually use it.