Appalling Vistas:  It’s appalling that the state should ever have funded poor people to go to law, writes Francis FitzGibbon QC. It’s appalling that foreigners who’ve lived in the UK for less than a year; or victims of medical incompetence; or women who’ve been done over by their partners; or workers unfairly sacked; or tenants thrown out of their homes, should have legal aid. You must be relieved that people no longer get legal aid to appeal against being deported and having their families broken up.

No? You feel no outrage that you may still get a QC to represent you and put your case if you are charged with a really serious crime, like murder, (but not for much longer, it seems). Still not appalled? How about prisoners – why on earth should the state help them to bring cases about their treatment and conditions? Appalling! Thank goodness that’s over. If they have some footling complaint about their treatment – let them go to the prison governor. For free!

 

This sort of thing appalled Kenneth Clarke QC so much that, when he was Lord Chancellor and Minister of Justice in 2012, he said of legal aid, that What we mustn’t do is just leave untouched a system that has grown astonishingly, making the poor extremely litigious’.

It appalled his successor Chris Grayling even more, so that he ordered ‘an immediate examination’ of the system as soon as he came into office, immediately after the last immediate ‘examination’ (LASPO) was over: the laughably named Consultation Paper on the future of legal aid.

In April 2013 the Legal Services Commission quango that used to administer legal aid, at arm’s length from the Ministry of Justice, was replaced by the Legal Aid Agency, run from within the Ministry. The MoJ runs courts, prisons, and legal aid. Within days, Mr Grayling announced that prisoners would not longer get it. A possible conflict of interests within the Ministry? Nooooo! Never mind that in case after case, the High Court has upheld prisoners’ complaints. How utterly appalling. We can’t let that happen again. (For more on this, see HERE on the JusticeGap by my Doughty Street Chambers colleagues Edward FitzGerald QC & Philippa Kaufman QC, and others.)

So you’ll be delighted that the 2013 Consultation Paper finishes the job of destroying legal aid, left half done by LASPO in 2012. The latest plans include:

  • Abolition of the right to choose your own solicitor if you are arrested: you must take the first name on the list.
  • Reductions of the 1,500 solicitors who have legal contracts in criminal law to about 400 – for the whole country.
  • Price competitive tendering – legal aid contracts will go the lowest bidder, not to people who know and care about what they are doing.
  • Hence, the likelihood that unloved corporate giants like G4S and Serco, or even Eddie Stobart, will take over the provision of legal aid.

Phew! Sorted!

In case you’ve forgotten, LASPO removed legal aid from a range of family disputes, employment cases, housing and social welfare cases – just in time for the new benefits system: so if you are on benefits, and the DWP or its profit-making private stand-ins make a mistake – thank goodness, you can no longer get a lawyer to put things right!

In the new, non-appalling legal world, the unaided citizens will have the privilege of representing themselves in legal proceedings when they can’t afford a lawyer. Some will do it very well; others will struggle; many will be put off completely. The unrighted wrongs of ‘the poor’ will persist.

Meanwhile, the magnificent Rolls Building in Chancery Lane, the leather seated, walnut-dashboarded centre of commercial litigation, is open for the oligarchs, spivs, libel tourists, and rich corporations of the globe to conduct their legal business.

It’s appalling that people take this whole ‘rule of law’ thing quite so seriously. Of course the state knows best! Just as well that our masters are going to make it much harder, and much more expensive, to challenge bad the decisions of government and public bodies by judicial review. The rule of law is for the rulers, not the ruled. Obvious, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

Profile photo of Jon Robins About Jon Robins
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award

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