Two giants of the legal profession have clashed over the issue of legal aid funding.

In a speech, Professor Michael Zander  said that legal aid funding ‘will still be better then practically any other country in the world’ even after the cuts.

But the leading human rights barrister, Michael Mansfield QC latched onto the comments, saying: ‘It’s a myth to suppose that we are amongst the best-funded systems in the world.’

Mansfield said: ‘England has the best system in the sense that there are committed publicly funded lawyers but what he [Zander] does not appreciate is that those publicly funded lawyers cannot go on in the situation there are in.’

Zander, who was speaking at a launch event at Winchester University, said the cuts were terrible and would almost certainly damage the quality and quantity of criminal legal aid.

‘I am as worried as anyone about this development. I was living in the belief that this would not happen, that although civil legal aid may be cut, criminal legal aid was sacrosanct.’

But the cuts ‘do not detract from the fact that our legal aid system is amazing. So I’m gloomy but not in despair.’

Zander continued: ‘Will lawyers doing criminal legal aid work earn quite as much as they did before? Clearly not.

‘Will some of the top people, some of the QCs making a lot of money from criminal legal aid, drift off to other work? Well there isn’t any obvious other work that they can do.’

Zander said Chris Grayling’s actions were politically understandable: ‘If I was the Secretary of State, and was told by the Treasury, that I had to achieve a 20% cut then would I have done the same? Possibly.’

But Mansfield attacked government priorities: ‘We shouldn’t be spending money on wars that we shouldn’t be fighting in the first place.’

‘I am not going to be constantly browbeaten on the basis that we don’t have the money. If we want to spend money bombing the hell out of somewhere suddenly we’ve got the money.’

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Profile photo of Christina Michaels About Christina Michaels
Justice Gap reporter and journalism student at the University of Winchester

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2 Comments

  • Kushal Sood October 28, 2013 5:08 pm

    To repeat the tired mantra to which there has been no response whatsoever, legal aid cuts will cost more than they save. Harping on about the generosity of our legal aid system in relation to other countries is simply nonsensical. The Govt started this ostensibly worthwhile line of defence, until they were gently informed that civil jurisdictions were not meaningfully comparable. So they shifted tack and Lord McNally hastily clarified that the Govt’s intention was always to compare our spends with other common law jurisdictions. But even this comparison ignores other social and economic problems that come with cuts. Prison numbers increase, mental health referral options are missed, disenfranchised prisoners are released without adequate resettlement plans, only to commit crime again. Costs thus appear elsewhere. Evidence in New Zealand and Australia validates this. The Govt are demonstrating consistent inability to factor in these costs, as the Treasury have tasked each Department with target cost reductions, so targets met can masquerade as something more meaningful. A true impact assessment is a must before any cuts are effected; it is just a shame nobody important has grasped this fact.

  • Kushal Sood October 28, 2013 5:50 pm

    To repeat a tired mantra, legal aid cuts will cost more than they save. The Treasury led savings targets will not actually save. Lords Neuberger, Carlisle, Hope and Bach are among the growing chorus of distinguished commentators to lend their voices to this collective assertion. To compare our legal aid budget to other countries in simply nonsensical. At first the comparison used examples of other European countries. When the Govt were gently reminded that comparisons with Civil jurisdictions were meaningless, they agreed and clarified that they had meant to compare our spends with common law jurisdictions. Fair play, easy to get France and New Zealand mixed up, if you’re a small child.

    But comparison with common law jurisdictions is equally meaningless. What about other variables, like crime rates, prison population and spending on other public services? Mr Mansfield QC uses the example of MoD spending, but there is spending that results from cuts. What about that? Evidence in New Zealand and Australia, amongst other common law jurisdictions, gives weight to idea that if you cut vital services, costs appear elsewhere. A proper impact assessment phasing in these costs is easy to commission; it is only political will that is lacking.

    Ignoring Coalition partners, the JCHR, over 100,000 signatures, 16,000 consultation responses and countless opposition from distinguished intellectuals, in favour of a misguided ideology appears to be Chris Grayling’s way.

    Those who, like Chris Grayling, feel sick at the idea of enfranchising prisoners and immigrants, even if this results in savings and social good, cling desperately at their right to disenfranchise. I hope there are enough people in Govt, now and in the future, who can suspend this base inclination, in favour of a measured approach to cuts.

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