The coalition doesn’t want to ‘buckle’ on legal aid cuts – but who will suffer as a result?

The coalition had a tough fortnight over its proposals to cut legal cut. And with a backbench debate scheduled for this Thursday, and the minister in front of the Justice Committee next month, it’s unlikely to get much easier.

Russell Hargrave is a spokesperson for Save Justice

The coalition had a tough fortnight over its proposals to cut legal aid. And with a backbench debate scheduled for this Thursday, and the minister in front of the Justice Committee next month, it’s unlikely to get much easier.

The government has finished consulting on plans which would force further deep cuts to the availability of free legal advice. This is even while people are still reeling from the initial tranche of cuts pushed through parliament last year.

The Ministry of Justice is trying to stay robust about its plans, but it is increasingly clear that the cabinet is far from convinced that these are fair or can command the trust of voters.

Attorney general Dominic Grieve couldn’t bring himself to publicly support the plans. Nick Clegg has openly cast doubt on them – as have the former shadow home secretary David Davies; as well as influential Tory backbencher Dominic Raab.

All this has come at the end of an awkward few weeks for justice minister Chris Grayling and his deputy Lord McNally.

Earlier in June, thousands of legal aid lawyers turned out to protest noisily outside the Ministry. Days later, the government’s own barristers published an unprecedented attack on the “unconscionable” proposals, which they say are likely to “create an underclass” completely unable to access the courts.

The Mail on Sunday, of all outlets, took the government to task for using dodgy data to scaremonger over legal aid.

The government has sometimes looked rather edgy in response. Interviewed for Radio 4’s Law in Action, Lord McNally dodged most of the substantive questions about access to justice and collapsed instead into complaints about ‘hysterical’ lawyers.

When he addressed a Question-Style debate on the cuts last week, hosted by the Bar Council, there were fewer pejoratives but not much more clarity. The minister explained that he had been advised “not to buckle” over the proposals, while returning over and again to the party line that, of course, no decisions have yet been made.

There were also moments of candour. If legal aid which exists precisely to support the very poorest in our society is cut away, McNally acknowledged, this will inevitably “hit and hurt” the most vulnerable among us.

So who might these people be?

They will include someone bewildered and held in custody on suspicion of a crime they didn’t commit – who finds not an experienced, highly-qualified solicitor whom they choose and whom they trust, but a lawyer plucked by the government from the cut-price market of potential contractors like G4S or Eddie Stobart.

They will include someone trafficked into the UK and exploited, told by the Home Office that they are lying about what they have been through, and then unable to find a lawyer willing to work for free to challenge the often arbitrary decisions of the Home Office.

And they will include a child left homeless due to unfair and unfounded decisions by social services, who turns to a lawyer for help only to be told that their immigration status means that their legal rights cannot be enforced . Thinking the public authorities will help them, they will in fact be powerless to challenge any abuse of power by those authorities.

The minister’s offer to meet with Save Justice for further talks on this is very welcome. The people on the sharp end of these cuts consist of some of the people in society who are already pushed to the margins, out of sight of politicians and policy-makers.

It is the right of those people to challenge abuses of state power that is at stake. It is time to bring them squarely back into view.

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14 Responses to “The coalition doesn’t want to ‘buckle’ on legal aid cuts – but who will suffer as a result?”

  1. Wyrdtimes

    Is there a devolved angle to the Legal Aid cuts or is it UK wide?

  2. blarg1987

    Only way around this would be to force all solicitors to take a percewntage say 50% of cases from people who can not afford it paid for by the exclusive clients, of course this would mean statutory regulation to compel legal firms to do this but that has to be the carrot to this goverments stick.

  3. Sarah Page

    Whatever you do, don’t mention England. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.

  4. LB

    Lawyers for a start.

  5. LB

    Great idea. We could then force you to work as a sewage worker.

    Nice bit of socialist bonkers.

    The problem is that Lawyers cost too much. They cost too much because its a closed shop with a strong union, who’ve screwed us over with the conievence of MPs. Lots of whom are lawyers.

  6. evanprice

    In my view, the principal reason for the increase in litigation costs is the increase in legislation – both procedural and substantive.

    If this Government (and the last Government) stopped passing laws to react to every perceived wrong – and allowed the existing legal process to catch up where necessary and only legislated where legislation was truly needed to meet changed circumstances, I do not believe that the costs would not have risen so much.

    The main problem with costs in Legal Aid cases appears to be with High Costs cases – the ones that involve the most serious allegations of criminal conduct, In most other cases, the costs are kep down – by the introduction over 10 years ago, of fixed fees (that have remained largely unchanged since their introduction).

  7. SaveJustice

    Nope, the new proposals will cover whether or not people can get help UK-wide. Any devolved angle was taken away in the round of cuts before this one.

  8. blarg1987

    So what would you recommend competative tendering where any person can do it, with no qualifications, leading to the cheapest tender providing justice for the poor guy while rolls royce service is given to those with money?

    If you read what I said carefully it would require legislation to force lawyers to take on cases from those less well off, you keep preaching the Swisss insurence model in health care where evyone is insured so that must be bokers by your logic then?

    I do not see the relevence of the sewage worker point, could you please elaborate?

  9. LB

    Sewage work. You want to force people to work on work you dish out, at a price you decide.

    Hence why not force you to work in a sewer, (its a public good), for 50% of your time, at a price, say, I deem fit. Min wage.

    Do you have an objection? It’s what you want to do to others.

  10. blarg1987

    Really do not see why you are referring to sewage work when I do not work in the sewage industry.

    I said and implied is that the law industry is forced by legislation to take a percentage of its clients from poor backrounds to ensure top quality justice is not for those with money.

    This would be PAID FOR by the weaklthy clients they have which subsidise cases for the least well off.

    Noticed you did not say that the Swiss Insurence model is bonkers yet it works in the same way as you keep preaching and advocating. So are you really the one who is the sewge worker?

  11. LB

    No its different.

    In the Swiss system, everyone pays for the bad risks. Just as in the UK.

  12. blarg1987

    It is very simular so not to different, to imply otherwise is not accurate nor true. Otherwise how under your system would the least well off in society be able to get the same quality of caliber of justice as those with money as usual free market principles imply the more you better then better service you usually get.

  13. LB

    Look at the current system.

    Poor get justice
    Rich get justice

    Middle class are screwed.

    Yep, you don’t care about justice, just your own special interest group.

    You’ve misanalysed the problem. The problem is the cost of the legal ssytem.

    So you get Lerverson, a lawyer. His solution more lawyers more cost.

    We have Brady, on legal aid, causing farago of a court case for 4-5 weeks at our cost.

    Even the Milly Dowler trial. I went and watched. Completely inefficient, and even more point less. He’s already in jail for life with no parole. Ah yes, the lawyers and the judges cream it out our expense.

  14. Save Probation

    Grayling and his injustice is awful. There’s even a song about his injustice by probation officers

    It’s Criminal –
    The Probation Song Against Privatisation (Youtube)

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