A sector on its knees, but no one seems to notice

As a nation we are famous for a good number of things, fish and chips on a Friday, being a nation of dog lovers and a legal system that is the envy of civilised nations worldwide. So, the question is, when we talk about government cuts hurting poorest, why is justice never mentioned?

In the budget on Monday, there were new “efficiency savings” announced for government departments, including a further 300 million cut to the Ministry of Justice but people don’t seem to care that Conservative maladministration has brought an industry to its knees.

We can all find ourselves at the mercy of the English justice system, whether that be as a victim of a crime or being in rent arrears with your landlord and at risk of being evicted yet there is no help available because legal aid has disappeared.

I work in for a Children’s legal charity at the moment and where there used to be enough money to ensure that access to justice was at the heart of our justice system, now people are representing themselves at record rates and the system is jammed full of people who, through no fault of their own, have no legal training and are presenting their cases with admirable resilience but slowing down the court system.
As a party, we have always been proud advocates of a society where no one is enslaved by “poverty, ignorance or conformity”. We have a justice system where people are enslaved because they cannot afford extortionate legal fees and legal aid is unavailable, and our party seems to be silent on this situation.

We seem to talk about Brexit, Brexit and Brexit again without talking about the core issues that led to the vote to leave. These issues like the fact our civil liberties are being eroded, and the rule of law is being undermined.

These problems, along with housing shortages, wage stagnation and social inequality, have led to a situation where people are frankly fed up with the status quo and want something better.

I joined the Liberal Democrats because of our unwavering commitment to civil liberties and justice. Unfortunately, I have yet to see our party shout about policies like scrapping the legal aid cuts.
If our party wishes to stand up for genuine liberal values and “demand better”, we should start by offering a full reversal of legal aid cuts and a strong commitment to justice.

* Callum Robertson is the Chair of Liberal Democrats for Prison Reform

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13 Comments

  • William Roy 31st Oct '18 - 3:52pm

    First look at the fees charged by the legal profession – and I think you have your answer as to WHY people feel no concern for them.

  • Martin Land 31st Oct '18 - 4:48pm

    Try as hard as I can and I really can’t feel sorry for lawyers

  • The issue is NOT about lawyers. As we discussed (at length!) in the LDV discussion on immigration and asylum – the biggest problem IMHO here is the withdrawal of legal aid and very poor legal representation that is unfortunately meaning that people are being sent back to torture and persecution. And it has meant many charities having to withdraw from representing people.

    And as outlined in the article many people are suffering and not getting justice. Something we should be STRONGLY against as liberals.

    Many lawyers do work for charities, legal centres or do pro-bono work – earning much less than they would otherwise. But the analogy is with people having to do the own surgery – the outcome would be worse! And we don’t expect doctors and surgeons to have to work for nothing – they get a more than an adequate salary from the NHS.

  • Callum Robertson 31st Oct '18 - 6:09pm

    Michael is dead on the money here. It is not and has never been about lawyer money, it’s about making sure that people are able to access the law when they need it.
    At the moment they can’t, it is also a grave misunderstanding that lawyers are all well paid.

    My first legal job (that required a law degree) paid £16,000

  • nigel hunter 31st Oct '18 - 8:47pm

    Yes, not all lawyers are well paid. It is them who climb the greasy pole that cream it in. However the cuts do make it harder for the little guy to obtain justice. For example if you do something wrong or questionable of a minor nature you may not get aid. As a result you may plead guilty, get fined. . This unfortunately gives you a criminal record that stays with you until spent This can blight a persons life.

  • Ed Shepherd 1st Nov '18 - 6:48am

    The closed shop, the high costs of education, the ubiquity of nepotism and the shortsightedness of those who run the legal professions are all reasons why access to justice is costly. Government cuts add to this unnecessarily costly system.

  • Agree absolutely that lack of money means that many people are not able to access the justice system. Added to this are the pressures that the police are under, which means that people are less able to rely on them for help and advice. So we get a system where many people have to turn to other means of settling problems or to suffer in silence.

  • To echo what others have said, law is a business in which individuals can either have strong moral compass or not (some firms work done with charities can be seen as primarily being done to advertise their services for example) but their specialist knowledge is required to resolve complex and stressful disputes. Cuts to legal aid leaves vulnerable people even more vulnerable.

    However, isn’t law devolved to Scotland so those born and raised there won’t necessarily find themselves at mercy of English justice system?

  • Peter Hirst 1st Nov '18 - 1:39pm

    Is there a middle way? People defending themselves is a corner stone of our justice system. After all, they know the case better than anyone. What about providing free advice to potential claimants so they can do a better job?

  • Callum Robertson 1st Nov '18 - 3:28pm

    Peter, unfortunately the way the court system works relies on fact rather than emotion, whilst a “litigant in person” may know their case brilliantly, the chances are that they are less well placed because they are emotionally attached to their case.

  • Malcolm Todd 1st Nov '18 - 3:51pm

    It’s also not just “knowing what happened” that matters. It’s knowing what the law says about it, and what the law considers relevant to take into account. People defending themselves is not a cornerstone of our justice system. People having access to decent legal advice and representation is.

  • Callum Robertson 5th Nov '18 - 1:00pm

    Unfortunately that might be true. However, we have a chance to thoughtfully reflect on what we did right and what we did wrong. I think it would say a lot (in a positive way) about how we recognise that we are not perfect and willing to change our policies to reflect the modern era.

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