Legal Aid A Loan, So Why Do You Lose Your Right To Choose?
By Michael Bott
As has been mooted for some time, the state is now to charge interest for the provision of legal aid services to people accused by it of committing crimes (Stuff, 31 October 2013). This underscores the fact that legal aid is seen by the state as a loan, which people must pay back.
But there is something dodgy about this. Under the changes to the legal aid scheme brought in by then Justice Minister Simon Power, people if they required a grant of legal aid to defend themselves in terms of most offences, lost the right to choose their lawyer. Defence counsel are now assigned by the state, with over 50% of all defence assignments given by the state to its own Public Defence Service. This seems to run counter to the government's belief about market choice that it promotes in other areas.
There is something blatantly wrong when you have a free market government, that trumpets the beneficial effect of the market in terms of its assets sale programme for example, yet when it comes to the provision of legal services, it moves to prevent people from selecting counsel of choice. Further, If you require a loan to build your house or put on an extension, the bank doesn't choose your builder.
Why is it then, that if you require a state loan (legal aid) to run your defence, that the state removes your right to choose your lawyer? Surely your liberty is more important than an ensuite or a conservatory, therefore your right to choose your own lawyer should be even more fundamental?