PM Cameron’s brother in victory against government

The Prime Minister’s brother, Alexander Cameron QC, has succeeded in having a multi-million pound fraud trial thrown out on the grounds that the government’s legal aid cuts prevented his clients from securing barristers to represent them.

David Cameron's brother Alexander Cameron QC agreed to represent his clients pro bono. Picture: Neil Hanna
David Cameron's brother Alexander Cameron QC agreed to represent his clients pro bono. Picture: Neil Hanna

Mr Cameron, who agreed to represent the five defendants free of charge in the application to stop the case, argued that the controversial Ministry of Justice (MoJ) reforms meant his clients could not find barristers of “sufficient competence”.

The trial, which involves the alleged mis-selling of land to members of the public, is a so-called Very High Cost Case (VHCC). The government has cut fees for such cases by 30 per cent for barristers and solicitors. Judge Anthony Leonard QC stayed the proceedings at Southwark Crown Court yesterday, saying it would be a “violation” to allow the state more time to put right its “failure to provide the necessary resources to permit a fair trial”.

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Labour leader Ed Miliband said the changes were “impeding access to justice,” while solicitors on the case warned cuts were “endangering” the justice system. The MoJ responded by accusing barristers of refusing to take the case because they did not “agree with savings”.

Judge Leonard said adjourning the case to January, as requested by the prosecution, would clog up the courts. The judge said he had concerns there was “no realistic prospect that in the future a suitable advocate will be available. The knock-on effect on other trials, the waste of resources and the need to disregard criminal procedure rules designed to 
protect the court system from abuse and ensure scarce resources are used to the best effect, all, in my judgment, add to the 
reason why an adjournment should not be granted”

Mr Cameron, who declined to comment as he left the court, had argued that the case cut to the wider problem that there was only a finite pool of Queen’s counsel barristers and very high demand for their services.

According to the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), each advocate who had signed a contract to undertake a VHCC case was presented with a choice to accept a 30 per cent cut in their fees or to terminate their contract. They chose to terminate their contracts. Since then, the CBA understands that no barrister has signed a new contract to undertake a VHCC at the reduced rates.

The decision to stay the case means that the five accused will be free men, subject to any appeal by prosecutors. Scott Crawley, Brendan Daley, Daniel Forsyth, Dale Walker and Arron Petrou were charged with conspiracy to defraud and sat in the public gallery to hear the ruling. Forsyth was also charged with providing false information.

A trial involving three other defendants which is linked to the case is still scheduled to take place. But legal experts said it was “likely” they would launch an application to stay their case in light of yesterday’s decision.

Asked if he was embarrassed about the case, the Prime Minister said: “We have an independent judicial system in this country and that’s an important part of having a free country. My brother has made arguments on behalf of his clients in court and the judge has made a decision. That’s the process, that’s the way it should be.”