Tuesday, 17 August 2010

State funding; car clampers; how to deal with four year olds and high street justice

The attack on legal aid is well underway.  The "behind a pay wall" Times reports that the Ministry of Justice is now planning to slash legal aid for deportation cases.  They say that Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, wants to end repeated challenges to decisions about asylum and last-minute challenges to deportation orders.  A "Whitehall source" is reported to have said - "We cannot go on allowing judicial reviews of every decision.  We are just going round and round on a merry-go-round".

Other areas where savings are to be made are medical negligence cases where, it is argued, people could take out insurance against the risk of a "botched operation".  In the past 3 years, legal aid costs in these cases has come to £82m.   It sounds a lot but it is a complex area and liability is often difficult to establish.   Then there is legal aid to prisoners (£21m in 2008-9) and taxpayer help for divorcing couples (£25m in 2009).

As The Times points out, the government is probably unlikely to find much opposition to cutting legal aid in immigration cases and there has undoubtedly been some abuse - e.g. here?.  Politically, cutting this area is likely to be a "crowd pleaser" despite the inconvenient fact that it will leave some of the most vulnerable, poor and desperate people without representation.

This comes on top of a cull of practitioners providing legal services to families - here - and a huge programme of court closures - here.  Never mind, I suppose that it's all in order so long as the legal great and good get their annual dinner with the Lord Mayor of London.

Perhaps one welcome bit of news is that the government is planning to ban the clamping of cars on private land - Home Office 17th August "End of the road for cowboy clampers".  It is certainly high time that the government got to grips with this practice which is, regrettably, frequently extortionate.

"Restorative justice" has also hit the news with a report - Telegraph 17th August - that a child aged FOUR has admitted "criminal damage" and was made to apologise and carry out "other suitable acts to make amends for his wrongdoing".  This was in Norfolk where, in 2009, over 500 children under 12 were "dealt with" last year.  Is this the way we should be dealing with children as young as four when the age of criminal responsibility is 10  ?

The Magistrates' Blog reports a suggestion that justice be meted out in high street stores and perhaps local halls - see " I hope this is a silly season story ".   Then there is the excellent Charon QC blog which asks just where will all the law students work - "Brave New World: Results". 

Just where will all this end? ...................

Addendum - 18th August:  Apologising will not reduce re-offending rates (Guardian 18th August);  Magistrates call for courts in shopping centres (Guardian 18th August); One in Five offenders "let off" (Daily Mail 18th August).  Follow up thread on the Magistrates' Blog and comment about courts in shopping centres on Charon QC.

Addendum - 19th August: "Legal aid is in tatters and only long-term thinking can mend it" - Alice Sachrajda - The Guardian.  This article argues that, for immigration and asylum cases, there is a need for better initial decision-making which would, eventually, lead to fewer appeals.

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