Blogs

Justice for sale but who pays for the cost?

lawyer getty 300x225 Justice for sale but who pays for the cost?

(Getty Images)

Justice, the bedrock of our society is for sale under the Government’s latest plan to sell legal aid contracts to the highest bidders. Lawyers across England protested yesterday outside Parliament against the Government’s proposals to cut legal aid for the most vulnerable.

Among the latest controversial proposals to slash public spending, the Government intends to introduce price-competitive tendering for criminal legal aid work. Solicitors firms will bid for legal aid contracts against leading competitors such as haulage firm Eddie Stobart and supermarket chains who aim to establish a legal arm to their business enterprise.

Legal aid contracts will most likely be given to firms who will do the work at the lowest rate. The simple fact is the majority of high street solicitors firms cannot afford to bid against lucrative firms. It is expected high street solicitors firms will perish from 1,600 to 400. ‘The average junior criminal lawyer at present earns slightly above the minimum wage – hardly fat-cat lawyers’ said Frances Trevena, barrister at Tooks Chambers.

There will not only be a reduction in the numbers of solicitors firms but also a reduction in the quality of representation. Under the proposals legal advice need only be ‘satisfactory’ – not excellent or even good. In any event there is no incentive for lawyers to provide outstanding legal representation when cases are assigned to the cheapest lawyer rather than the best. The Government’s proposals have been labeled an attack on the quality of representation where the overriding principle of justice has been replaced with profit.

The proposals are not only an attack on quality of representation but also an ‘appalling attack on client choice’, according to Robin Murray, vice-chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association. The proposed tendering system will mean clients can no longer choose their own solicitor instead cases will be allocated at random. If your case is assigned to a haulage firm rather than solicitors firm – tough luck – unless you have the money to pay for representation privately.

But the target of these cuts are not those who can afford to pay privately for representation, they are the most poor, who without legal aid would have no representation and no means of access to justice, a principle which should be available to all, regardless of class, wealth or ethnicity. Under the Government’s proposals legal aid will no longer be available to all. The proposals aim to remove legal aid from a large number of prisoners who may for example have a claim against their treatment in prison.

Access to legal aid for immigrants, specifically the most recent arrivals in the UK, will also be curtailed. In practice this means that the most marginalized are penalized. It is not hard to envisage a situation where a young girl trafficked into the country for the purposes of sexual exploitation who may have suffered the most horrendous acts of inhumanity, may not be entitled to legal aid under the Government’s proposals and will not therefore, have access to justice.

Lord Gifford Q.C. head of 1 Mitre Court Buildings, author of the Passionate Advocate and founder of the first Law Centre in North Kensington spoke out against the Government’s proposals, ‘we worked to ensure that the services of the best lawyers were available to the poorest client. We made a reality of the ideal of justice for all. I am sickened to see that this ideal, which is fundamental to a society based on the rule of law, is now at risk from proposals, which will create gross injustice for those who cannot pay for a lawyer.’

Legal aid was introduced back in the 1940s as one of the pillars of the welfare state. The aim was to provide a vital safety net for everyone including the underprivileged. As Winston Churchill once said ‘the treatment of crime and criminals’ was ‘one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country’. The very same system, which was once supported by the public and envied by countries across the world, has ‘lost much of its credibility with the public’ according to Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary.

Today, political rhetoric has changed. Rather than supporting a human rights agenda, policy proposals are used to feed the Government’s anti-human rights agenda. Discourse dictates that the poor are viewed as unworthy of a safety net funded by the public pursue, whether welfare benefits or legal aid. Needless to say there is a real risk that our country will soon fail the test of civilisation that Churchill warned about.

You can respond to the public consultation until 4 June 2013, sign the petition against the Government efforts to defeat justice and attend Government consultation events on the proposals.

Tagged in:
  • Owen Hilton

    What about striking against ‘One law for Comrade Delta’? It’s about time he had his collar felt!

  • greggf

    “As Winston Churchill once said ‘the treatment of crime and criminals’ was ‘one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country’.”

    Interesting you quote Churchill here Charlotte, if I remember they used to hang murderers in his day. So one of his “unfailing tests” has been dispensed with…..?

  • Alex_Cheshire

    Potentially you could have a firm defending you, that will make more money if you are incarcerated. That cannot be right.

  • Hill244

    If you think there is any justice in Britain for the poor I will have a pint of what you are drinking.

  • a_no_n

    When it’s illiegal to be poor, the poor have two choices, lie down and die, or live outside the law that sees you as unfit to exist.

    Is there any doubt that the class war is raging ever stronger…the upper class are starting to roll out the weapons of mass destruction now!

  • rosepoet

    The law has always been for sale-I lost a disability discrimination case because the other side were prepared to pay £85,000 to a team of lawyers[one of four cases they were taking on that year] rather than tell the truth and pay nothing. I had a Mackenzie friend, but we waded though complex caselaw, blindsided by obscurity and legal ettiquette. But at least I told the truth- even though I lost the case and had costs of £10,000 awarded against me. The truth isn’t a commercial item for sale.

  • raysimmonds@hotmail.co.uk

    My name is Raymond SIMMONDS. I am a 54 year old former Police Officer and lapsed Qualified Flying Instructor.

    Not only are we obviously not equal under the law in this country ; but some people are deliberately excluded from the law.

    What follows are some of the other reasons, besides lack of Legal Aid, for why the law is not equal.

    Innocent people are forced to plead Guilty, if they have not got enough Evidence of their Innocence, because if they plead Not Guilty, they will be found Guilty anyway and given a harsher sentence for pleading Not Guilt.

    The abilities of lawyers are different, with the more expensive lawyers ( with more experience, contacts and influence etc ) tending to be more successful.

    People may have to remain Wrongly Convicted, or Accused – even if they have the Evidence they need to win a case – because they have been Diagnosed / Misdiagnosed as not having the Capacity to Testify to it.

    And here is an example of how someone can be excluded from the law.

    I have Evidence that, most professional and laypeople who have studied it agree, shows that the Police and / or corrupt Officials can Pervert the Course of Justice by having someone falsely discredited as not having the Capacity to Testify, IF it serves their corrupt interests to keep the Evidence buried.

    The Evidence not only proves that a Malicious Complaint was made, but also proves that the circumstances of the Malicious Complaint were Misdiagnosed as Delusional, which has prevented the appropriate Legal Action from being taken.

    It also shows that people can end up being kept for many years, by Taxpayers, on Incapacity Benefit, even though Authorities know that there is Evidence that they are not really Mentally Ill.


Most viewed

Read

N/A

Property search
Browse by area

Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter