Football Fans – Actually, someday it might happen to you or your family.

This is my second blog on the legal aid cuts and is aimed at football fans as they are a large part of my everyday work.  In effect I am writing this to tell you of the damage that is being done to the legal system by the Government, and in particular the proposed legal aid changes.  I don’t expect you to have any sympathy with lawyers, and those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the way in which a large proportion of criminal lawyers are whinging about the cuts but doing nothing to actually stop it, expecting the few who are working really hard on campaigning against the cuts to do it for them.

For once I say that criminal lawyers are facing the same prejudices as football fans…Yes all right, don’t all shoot me now!  But seriously, criminal lawyers have all been classed as ‘Fat Cats’ due to the very small minority who have lived very nicely off of legal aid.  This is in much the same way as all football fans are classed as hooligans and sadly, so often treated like hooligans, due to the small minority of so called fans who go out of their way to cause trouble at or around a football match.  The so called ‘Fat Cats’ can probably be counted on one hand and most have had a connection to the Government in some way or another.  The majority of criminal lawyers live in the same areas as you, in the same type of houses, drive the same type of cars (or in my case, get the bus and train everywhere) and have the same daily concerns over finance, family etc.

But, that’s enough about the criminal lawyers.  The main injustice that will be caused by these legal cuts is to people like you.  Those, so called regular clients, who have a habit of finding themselves in the police station and court will probably still qualify for legal aid.  The person who has never been in trouble before, who has a mortgage, a family, a partner who also works, and a small amount of savings is the person who will suffer most from these cuts.  By this stage you are probably thinking, but I don’t get into trouble so why should I care?  Well, I care about the rights of fans, and as a fan, you should too.

With the exception of a few football fans, who I can also count on one hand, all of my clients say the same thing “I can’t believe this is happening to me, I have never been in trouble, I did nothing wrong’, and are mostly young lads in the twenties or men in the their forties.   Examples of my recent cases include the 18 year old who was arrested outside the stadium due to having a smoke bomb in his pocket, which he had intended to let off after the match if his team won, and to celebrate his 18th birthday at the same time.  The 35 year old fan who was arrested for allegedly assaulting a steward who grabbed the client’s 8 year old son by the collar and pushed him back to his seat. The father grabbed the steward’s arm to make him release the grip on his son. The son had run to the front of the stands to take a photo of the mascot.  The fan who was woken up at 6am by a police knocking on his door with a search warrant following a complaint by a steward that the fan had assaulted him.  It turned out that the steward had made the complaint because he believed his ex-wife was now in a relationship with the fan.

All of these cases were resolved before they got to the door of the court, and all resolved in favour of the fan, but required a lot of work behind the scenes. This work was done on legal aid.  If the Government’s legal aid plans come into force, none of these clients would be entitled to legal aid, they would have to find a lawyer to take on their case privately, and because the cases never made it to court, the client would not be able to recover their legal costs. In addition ti saved a lot of court time, and CPS and Police costs that would have been incurred had these matters gone to trial.

In addition, at the police station these fans all requested a lawyer.  All were seen quickly by the duty lawyer and arrangements made for them to be released from custody.  Two saw the duty lawyer and one requested to contact a football specialist solicitor.  The two who had the duty lawyer then applied to change to a football specialist lawyer.  It was due to this change that I was instructed and between us we managed to negotiate with the CPS and Police and arrange for the charges to be dropped.  Under the proposed legal aid changes, the lawyer at the police station will be part of a ‘super firm’  which covers much of the county, and which will inevitably cause a delay in the legal representative seeing the client in the police station due to the geographical area  they are covering.  Add to this the fact that the client will have no choice of lawyer from then on, so will not be able to change to a specialist.  In other words, if you compare this to the NHS it is like saying that there will be no more surgeons or specialist doctors, but that GP’s will undertake all operations and treatment.

If you end up in court, having to pay for your own lawyer, and are acquitted, you will only get the costs paid at the legal aid rates.  So if your lawyer has charged you more than the legal aid rate you will not be able to claim it back.  So far, not a problem, why should lawyers get more from private clients than they would get on legal aid?  I wouldn’t have a problem with this if the legal aid rates for court work were not being cut so low that essentially all experienced trial lawyers will be priced out of the market. So even if you can find a lawyer who will be able to survive working on legal aid rates, the chances are they will not be experienced in trial work, and certainly not in the specialist football related law and court procedure.

Let’s say you are lucky enough to still be eligible for legal aid, the Government wants to introduce ‘Plea Only’ advocates.  In other words the lawyer who represents you in court is only able to represent you if you plead guilty as they are not qualified to undertake ‘not guilty’ cases, and also won’t get paid if  you don’t plead guilty.  How can you expect to receive independent advice, which is the best for you, when the person giving you the advice will only get paid if you plead ‘Guilty’.

You are probably still wondering how this affects you….don’t take my word for it, next time you go to a football match, speak to other fans and find out how many have tales such as those above.  It will be more common than you think.  And in the meantime, just incase  you ever find yourself in the position I have described above, please click here http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628  and sign this e-petition against the legal aid cuts.

If you feel even more strongly about the cuts, write to your MP or write to me at agurden@1gis.co.uk  I am compiling a dossier to put forward as a response to the Government legal aid consultation.  If you have been in a situation such as I have described above, please get in touch and tell me whether legal aid assisted you, or the problems you had because you were not eligible to claim legal aid.  If any supporter networks want more information on the proposed cuts and the likely impact on fans, please feel free to get in touch.

ABOUT ME: I am a criminal lawyer, not a ‘fat cat’.  I already undertake a large amount of work on legal aid and pro bono, and I just about manage to make a living out of it.  I am not fighting this fight for me, or for my fellow criminal lawyers..I will leave them to do that themselves.  I am fighting this because I feel very strongly about the English legal system, which has always been shown as one of the best in the World, and for all my current and future clients who will suffer under these cuts.  You pay your taxes so that you can have these protections should you ever need them.

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About gurdena

Social Justice Lawyer, interested in all things contentious. Specialising in criminal law, and anything criminal justice related, also employment law. Door tenant at 1 Grays Inn Square chambers. Find out more at www.alisongurden.com

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