Justice denied? Unrepresented defendants in the criminal courts

Unrepresented defendants in the criminal courts

Justice denied? More defendants represent themselves

More defendants representing themselves in court

The campaigning charity, Transform Justice, has today released a report into the number of criminal defendants representing themselves. Exact numbers of unrepresented defendants were hard to establish, but all sources cited in the report agreed that there has been a worrying increase. In particular, those she interviewed were agreed that unrepresented defendants are subject to multiple disadvantages:

Report author, Penelope Gibbs – a former magistrate and Transform Justice’s founder –highlights the reasons why the numbers of defendants representing themselves in court has increased, with lack of awareness of or ineligibility for legal aid being key among them.

What is clear is the cost to justice – interviewees had witnessed unrepresented defendants not understanding what they were charged with, pleading guilty when they would have been advised not to, and vice versa, messing up cross examination of witnesses, and getting tougher sentences because they didn’t know how to mitigate. Most advocates felt more and better access to legally aided lawyers was the only answer.

Gibbs argues that legal aid is only one solution and that a more radical overhaul of the criminal justice system to accommodate the increase in unrepresented defendants is another.

The report is available at http://www.transformjustice.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/TJ-APRIL_Singles.pdf