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Number of unrepresented defendants is increasing in criminal courts

9th May 2016

Report reveals the number of unrepresented defendants is increasing

New research has highlighted that the number of unrepresented defendants in criminal courts is on the rise.

A study called Justice Denied? The experience of unrepresented defendants in the criminal courts, which was run by the charity Transform Justice, found that while there were no authoritative statistics on the actual number of defendants without a lawyer, the perception of court staff was that the number has risen dramatically.

The research revealed that magistrates and district judges estimate that in non-traffic cases 15-40 per cent of defendants were not represented by legal professionals and lawyers.

Official figures regarding the number of unrepresented defendants in the magistrate courts is still very much unknown as the research from Transform Justice said courtroom data on whether defendants were legally aided is not collected on a regular basis.

Income threshold forcing defendants to represent themselves

In an article on the Law Society Gazette, the president of the Law Society, Jonathan Smithers, explained the means test income threshold of £22,325 is making thousands of defendants ineligible for legal aid and therefore unable to pay for legal advice.

He said, “(It is) leaving them no option but to represent themselves.

“It is deeply concerning that people are facing serious criminal charges without the support of a solicitor.”

Mr Smithers has urged for the rules to be changed so that the upper income limit for legal aid is set at the 40 per cent tax band.

The increase in the number of unrepresented defendants has seen many judges, lawyers and others working in legal jobs in London and across the rest of the UK to call for more research on this topic and for data to be collected so it can be seen how big the problem is.

In another article, former magistrate Penelope Gibbs, who is the report’s author, said that many judges and prosecutors felt the number of unrepresented defendants had only recently increased, but due to a lack of data these defendants were ‘invisible in policy terms’.

Image Credit: Andrey Burmakin