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The Rights of Defendants

The 'defendant' is the term used in the criminal courts for a person accused of an offence. This chapter explains, in brief outline, your basic rights in England and Wales should you find yourself in that position.

This area of law has been rapidly changing under the present government, aiming to reduce crime, combat terrorism and cut the costs of delivering justice, sometimes at the expense of defendants' rights. Over 60 Acts of Parliament have created some 3000 new crimes in the past decade. Procedures have been changed to allow evidence that was previously excluded to be heard in court, for instance about a defendant’s previous arrests. The incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into English law reaffirmed the importance of the right to a fair trial and has had some impact in protecting the rights of defendants. Most recently, Lord Carter’s Report on the funding of Legal Aid threatens the existence of many solicitors firms providing this service and puts at risk the defendant’s right to a solicitor of their own choosing.

This chapter deals with the various stages of the system in the order you are likely to encounter them, outlining the procedures involved, and your basic human and legal rights at each point.

To do so in a single chapter, it is necessary to simplify and summarise often complex rules and procedures. It should also be kept in mind that changes are constantly occurring to the law in this area.

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