|Jonathan Djanogly MP|
Law Society Gazette - Analysis of the legal aid and sentencing bill - 30th June.
Law Society reaction
Consumer Justice Alliance view
"A Shameful bill will make us all pay" - is the title of the Editorial in the printed version of the Law Society Gazette 23rd June which looks at the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. The internet version publishes it under the title "Whitehall turns a blind eye to fallout from legal aid cuts."
There were over 5000 submissions to the governments' legal aid consultation and, as the Gazette points out, many of these did far more than merely register opposition. They contained "eloquent, practical and detailed explanations of the wider consequences of the cuts proposed." Kenneth Clarke has chosen to ignore these points and has taken "public policy into territory that shares a long border with malfeasance in public office." The cuts do not result from negligence or incompetence but are "deliberate and doctrinaire" and turn a wilful blind eye to the consequences of the policy, as identified in the submissions. The Gazette concludes - "This is a shameful bill." Very strong words indeed.
A further article in the Gazette is - "We did listen on legal aid, Djanogly insists, ...." It appears that the Bill is to be driven through Parliament on a tight timetable. If only Parliament and not the executive actually controlled the timetable! Such undue haste is surely even more irresponsible given
the massive concern which this bill gives rise to. Not to miss a political opportunity, on 20th July, Djanogly published the earnings of some lawyers from legal aid.
Writing in The Times 23rd June, Frances Gibb looks at why there appears to be much less public interest in cuts to legal aid than in reforms to the health service. In some ways, the answer is obvious since the public - encouraged by some media articles (e.g. Daily Mail "How crime DOES pay: 500 legal aid barristers earning more than the PM") - appears to see opposition to legal aid cuts as special pleading by already rich "fat cat" lawyers anxious to remain in the opulent lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. This issue is not actually about this at all. It is about access to justice and people, most of whom have little knowledge of the law, should not have to struggle to represent themselves. In fact, as The Times article points out, the average income for a young barrister in criminal work is in the region of £25,000 though some more experienced lawyers earn exceptionally high fees though this tends to be earned in the most difficult of cases and in appeal work.
Naturally enough, there will be more public concern about health reforms since, at some stage, we might all become ill and almost all will require some form of care in old age. Most of the population will never see the inside of a court or tribunal. Nevertheless, for those that have to, the absence of a lawyer to represent them will be sorely felt. Not just by the litigant but, ultimately, by society as a whole.
Clause 12: As mentioned in the previous post on this blog, Clause 12 seems to enable some sort of "interests of justice" to be applied to advice and assistance even at the Police Station stage (e.g. where a person is being questioned - whether arrested or not). Currently, the advice of a solicitor (or accredited representative) is provided and is free. This possibility appears to have been quietly inserted into the bill and it did not appear in the consultation document. Such advice has been available since the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. History is replete with examples of the Police interviewing suspects who turned out to be completely in the clear. Any democratic Parliament worth its salt will set its face against the imposition of charging for such advice. See The Guardian 25th June - "Legal Aid reform could end right to a free solicitor" - and note the views of Lord Macdonald QC - a former Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Parliamentary timetable: There is little doubt that, of all Ministers in the coalition government, Kenneth Clarke has appeared to be among the most eager to make cuts. However that may be, the second reading of this bill has been set down for 29th June. Given the complexity of this bill, this is an exceptionally tight timetable. Legal aid is vastly important if people are to be able to assert their rights and defend actions brought against them. Parliament itself must stand up and reject this timetable although I would be surprised if MPs, in thrall to the executive, are actually prepared to do this.
Please look at Sound Off for Justice - "Government U-turn on listening as Clarke rushes unfair legislation through Parliament"
For more on this subject ... and other matters ... see CharonQC blog - LAG - "Follow the money" and Edgar Venal welcomes legal aid cuts. The Marilyn Stowe (family law) blog - "The Experts: Has the sentencing U-turn furore buried the bad news on legal aid?"
For some rather different angles see Lawyer Watch - "Legal Aid Dutch style .." and "Should judges be trained to deal with litigants-in-person"