A law firm’s scathing takedown of the Daily Mail is essential reading

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A law firm has published a scathing response to the Daily Mail following two articles it published on legal aid. One piece led with the headline:

Top lawyers slam legal system after speedboat killer gets £100,000 in legal aid to appeal his manslaughter conviction – despite being on the run.

The second piece offered a £25k reward for the man’s capture and dedicated a section to the owner of the law firm representing him.

Tuckers, the law firm concerned, issued a statement to correct both the “number of inaccuracies” it says the Mail‘s coverage contained and in response to:

(predictably) the tone of the article being completely skewed to misrepresent the nature of legal aid, criminal defence solicitors and the role of the wider justice system.

Silly money

Firstly, Tuckers took issue with the £100,000 figure the Mail uses for legal aid costs. It states:

We have absolutely no idea from where the Daily Mail has obtained the figures of £93,000 or £100,000 in respect of the amount “received by Tuckers”. It is correct that we are instructed to represent Mr Shepherd. The case is funded by legal aid. The fee for representing Mr Shepherd in connection with his trial was less than £30,000.

Read on...

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And even if the figure had been correct, barrister Joanna Hardy pointed out in a thread on Twitter:

A basic understanding of justice

Tuckers then schooled the Mail in a basic understanding of how criminal defence works:

We represent. We do not judge. We represent our clients without prejudice and to the best of our ability. That professionalism and duty does not go away because of the perceived morally dubious actions of any particular client.

The firm also pointed out that 95% of the legal aid work was carried out before the client absconded and that:

The court were fully aware that we would act in his absence as we had a professional duty to do so. We are not professionally embarrassed because the client has not attended his hearing.

Hardy explained why this is so important:

The appeal

Much of the outrage expressed in the Mail article is from politicians upset that the defendant gets to appeal despite being on the run. Conservative MP John Howell stated:

It seems he is making a mockery of t

he legal system. This would seem to be a good example of how there does need to be a tightening of the rules.’

But as Tuckers pointed out:

A legal aid certificate automatically extends to advice on appeal.  The clients appeal is based on what the defence believe were legal errors made during the trial. The clients continued absence (we are not aware of his whereabouts) has no effect on the principle of an appeal which is purely based on matters of law.

It continued:

The merits of the appeal are considered by a single judge and in this case he has authorised the fact that the grounds of the appeal have sufficient merit to go before the court of appeal. The client’s absence has no bearing on that assessment and as the judge has given his authorisation we are duty bound to proceed with the appeal.

A scathing one-liner

Tuckers’ response finished with a scathing one-line regarding the extensive coverage the Mail gave to Franklin Sinclair, the owner of the firm:

Obviously, nothing in the Daily Mail’s article today relating to Franklin Sinclair has anything to do with this case whatsoever.

 

Sinclair did not represent the defendant or have anything to do with the case. It was just window dressing for the Mail‘s faux outrage.

Legal aid under assault

Tuckers’ response is important – not only in calling out the “inaccuracies” in the Mail‘s ‘reporting’, but because legal aid is on its knees and under threat. Andrew Walker, chair of the Bar Council, said that cuts are:

a huge threat to access to justice in our country.

And Conservative MP Nigel Evans has spoken out about his previous support for Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) that dramatically reduced who qualified for legal aid. Evans, who spent his life savings successfully fighting a rape allegation, said:

It’s wrong, completely wrong, to remove people’s right to have expert legal representation, and now I’ve gone through it I can see that clearly. We’re definitely talking about justice being denied as a result of Laspo.

This is why media attacks on legal aid are so misleading and so damaging. And it’s why Tuckers’ response is essential reading.

Featured image via screengrab

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