Hearing Chris Grayling’s defence of his plan to deny legally aided criminal defendants the right to a proper defence I was reminded of an incident in London 30 years ago. It was on January 14th 1983 that an entirely innocent man called Stephen Waldorf was shot and critically injured by armed police as he travelled in the car of a female friend called Sue Stephens. Police were looking for an escaped armed robber called David Martin who had, it was alleged, once had a relationship with Miss Stephens. Whether he had or not, there was no reason for trigger happy officers to shoot Waldorf. He later received £150,000 compensation although the police officers involved.were acquitted of attempted murder.
What followed was a disgraceful character assassination of both Waldorf and Stephens by the tabloid press. aided by politicians who should have known better. The Tory MP and leading spouter of right wing nonsense at the time, Eldon Griffiths, who was also parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation, expressed the view that Waldorf and Stephens were not innocent but ‘tainted with criminality.’ This was, to say the least, a novel concept. The implication was that they deserved it.
Chris Grayling has evidently adopted the concept and applied it to his legal aid ‘reforms’ which will remove the right of legally aided defendants to choose a lawyer and allocate them one working for a fixed fee irrespective of the length and complexity of the case. He has spoken of the ‘challenging and troubled backgrounds’ of defendants and suggested that they are too thick to choose and instruct lawyers. He implies too that these defendants will have done something even if not the actual crime they are accused of. It’s alright, therefore, to deny them a proper defence and bang them up. They are from ‘troubled backgrounds.’, or , to use a phrase from the past, they are ‘tainted with criminality.’
With these words Grayling has shown his contempt for the due process of law and for the presumption of innocence. He clearly does not believe that justice is a public good worth paying for. The Justice Secretary should resign so that his job can be done by someone who does.